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Women finding their voice online


At less than half-a-percent, Cambodia has one of Asia's lowest rates of internet users – yet women make up nearly half its blogging community, which number in the thousands

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Koulina Keo at work on her blog.

FOR women looking to amplify their voices, blogs are leading the way in the Kingdom's women's empowerment movement.

While print, radio and TV remain male-dominated, the Kingdom's blogging scene showcases a disproportionate number of outspoken women, known as "BlogHers", writing about controversial topics.

"Most voices in the media have been dominated by high-ranking males in the government," said blogger Sopheap Chak. "Blogs are one medium that women, regardless of their position or political affiliation, can use to convey their voices to the public."

Sopheap Chak, who has written about human trafficking, corruption and women's issues in her iFocus blog, is one of the Kingdom's gutsiest bloggers, openly speaking out against government officials.

Death threat

She received one online death threat for criticising the CPP, she claimed, which read "It's the time to quit before you are getting kill CPP!! If I was you, I will look for the door now!"  Most political blogs in the Kingdom remain anonymous.

"Blogs are one of the most exciting and innovative uses of technology for the right to expression while these rights are still restricted in Cambodia," Sopheap Chak said.

"We can share news, critically express our opinions and communicate through blogs."

Nearirath Sreng, a prominent BlogHer and one of Cambodia's few young female lawyers, received nationwide attention when she blogged about her experiences raising funds to compete in the prestigious Philip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington, DC.

"I love and really enjoy posting my blog about my experiences at Jessup because I have to ... update my coaches who couldn't make it to DC with us," she wrote by email from the competition. "And my little sister will read it every day to update my parents, too. So blogging is a good way to keep people I love and I know updated."

BlogHers also took centre stage on Women's Day on March 8, setting out their own beliefs in gender equality.

With technology, we can bring Cambodia out of the past of poverty and war.

"If you look at the past, women had to get involved most in family work," wrote Kounila Keo, a journalist. "But as time passes, the gender roles of men and women are, too, changing throughout the world. Women aren't just women now."

The Cloggers

The female blogger clique is part of a wider movement in the Kingdom known as the Cloggers, short for Cambodian bloggers.

The Cloggers began travelling around the Kingdom in 2005 under the leadership of popular blogger Mean Lux, holding workshops on information technology.
Since then, they've spawned from around 30 bloggers to a vibrant community in the thousands - nearly half of them women.

The popularity of blogs among women comes despite the Kingdom having an internet penetration rate of only 0.48 percent - or 70,000 Internet users out of a population of 14 million, among Asia's lowest.

"This is our wired generation of Cambodians," said Tharum Bun, a 27-year-old photographer widely perceived as the leader of the Cloggers. "With technology, we can bring Cambodia out of the past of poverty and war."

In September last year, the group hosted the first-ever BarCamp Phnom Penh, a popular technology conference where anyone can present. Techies attended from all over Southeast Asia, including representatives from Microsoft.

"The Cloggers are doing the right thing by just inviting as many people as possible and showing them technology in a neutral way," said Preetam Rai, former Southeast Asia editor for Global Voices Online, a blog aggregation service.

"Cambodia needs a generation of citizens who are able to discriminate information effectively."

Yet after the government ordered the website to be blocked for its photos of semi-nude Apsara dancers, some bloggers worry censorship could hit their own content.

"In my opinion politicians have either not noticed online political blogs or they are deeply suspicious of them. I think Cambodia comes under the first category," Rai said.

"I am not sure how the politicians will behave when they do start encountering blogs critical to them.

"Practically speaking, blogs reach a very small percentage of Cambodian people. Politicians might as well ignore them for now," he added.



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