Rank-and-file romance beats all odds

Rank-and-file romance beats all odds

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Badges of honour: colonel Chan Sokha and his wife, lieutenant colonel Tear Darasath. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Chan Sokha, 57, and Tear Darasath, 58, are a Cambodian power couple of a different kind. She is a lieutenant colonel and he a colonel in the auditing department of the Ministry of Interior. They've learned to work together at home and also on the job - with Darasath likely to make the same rank as her husband soon.  Julius Thiemann heard the story of two perspectives on a forced marriage turned good.

Chan Sokha

The Khmer Rouge chief in our village in Battambang arranged our marriage. Men and women had to stand in two separate lines. Then names were called out loud, and men and women were paired together randomly and had to get married. My wife and I were lucky to like each other. Of all couples that were forced to marry that day [in our village] and didn’t get killed under the Khmer Rouge, we are the only ones who are still together. The others all divorced after the regime fell.

During the Khmer Rouge, women and men were treated equally. Everybody had to carry 10 kilos of stones and got the same amount of rice to eat. This is only a bad joke, but one has to acknowledge that there are differences between the sexes: women cannot carry as many stones as men, and this is OK.

In 1982, there were only two per cent women in the police force, but that started to change in 1984. For the fifth anniversary of the victory over the Khmer Rouge, the government wanted to celebrate with a police parade that had women in it too because international TV stations were there.

After more women joined the police force in 1984, I was very happy for them to come in. The women started doing all the paperwork, and we men could do the more exciting things. Women are much better at paperwork and keeping things in order than men. We would probably just mess up all the papers.

I won’t mind when my wife will be promoted into the same rank as me. On the contrary, I am happy because then we will make more money – another bad joke!

My wife is a very strong woman at work and at home. We see each other all day every day, and we have a wonderful family. When we first married under the Khmer Rouge, I had no idea what a great woman she was. 

Tear Darasath

From a very young age, I wanted to be a policewoman. When I was young, I once saw one of the few policewomen passing by in a police car wearing a uniform. I ran and followed her as long as I could.

There are nine women in our unit of 63 – police and civilians – and I am the only woman in our rank. Men at work respect me – it’s not because of my husband. They respect my rank and my work. That’s what matters. There are no problems between men and women at work. We help each other and are professional.

Sometimes the men joke about us women and say we couldn’t go out on trips to the provinces because unlike them we couldn’t sleep in the field on hard ground. In reality, we all go together and we don’t camp in the field. I go to the province for audits all the time. I think women are strong now and can do whatever they want. We laugh about the jokes men tell about us ourselves, and after all, we women joke about the men too.

After I got married in 1979, I stayed home and had children. It wasn’t until 1991 that I joined the police and I learned that women could do anything. But day by day, I grew more confident in myself.

My husband helped me a lot with our children and in the household, and when they grew older, the children helped themselves. This is how I could have this career. Our family does everything together, and we organise it well. We never had a cleaner.

In Cambodia, the man usually is the lieutenant colonel, but in my family I am the bank and accountant. Everybody has to ask me when he or she wants to spend money, even my husband. I am like the deputy director of a company that manages everything and is in charge while the director doesn’t have much to say.

I am very likely to be promoted into the same rank as my husband soon, but I don’t think this will cause any hierarchy problems at home. We separate work and private life.

I hope and believe that there will be more women in the police force. It is not 30 per cent yet, but that will change.

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