ONCE a festival for broad-chested Angkorian kings to test the fighting prowess of their warriors, the Bon Om Tuk boat races today are slowly becoming a more accurate reflection of Cambodia's mixed-gender strengths.
This year, about 300 women joined the boat racing tournaments during the three days of the Water Festival, challenging its male-dominated tradition.
"There are 424 boats attending the races this year, eight of which are rowed by women," Chea Kean, deputy president of the National and International Festival Committee, told the Post Tuesday.
"Among these eight boats, three are rowed by women in seated positions and two in standing positions. The other three are short boats for women. They are all from the provinces," he added.
Women have had an increasing presence in the festival since they were permitted to join in 1992.
"The number of women in the boat races this year is more than last, and I am very proud that Cambodian women have been able to join," Chea Kean said.
Khan Sopea, a boat head and performer from Kampong Chhnang province, said she was happy to represent women in the competition.
"We have two boats this year. One is for men and the other one is for women. Last year, the women's boat won first place," she said.
"I feel happy because, as a woman, I am able to join the boat-racing twice, last year and this year. Moreover, I have a chance to join other entertainment activities during the festival as well."
Hoy Sochivanny, a local women's rights expert from the NGO Peace and Development, said she commended the women.
"The ministry should set up policies that support and encourage women, especially the provision of proper accommodation for them during the Water Festival," she said.
Sy Define, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women Affairs, said Tuesday that she would consider such support next year.