Cambodia's transition to democracy has caused tension between men and women but dramatically
altered women's thinking, according to two highly successful Phnom Penh women.
Chhay Nay, director of Mahimex Co. which imports French pharmaceutical products,
and Phanny Chhea of the Foreign Ministry spoke to the Post about the position of
Mrs Phanny said that Cambodian women used to be very traditional, very deferential
to men. If a man beat his wife there was nothing she could do about it.
But now there has been a big change and "women have the courage to get divorced,
even though divorced women are looked down on," she said.
"You can see it in the court figures. Men used to divorce their wives but now
it's mostly women who are divorcing their husbands.
Women are no longer content to stay at home or put up with bad treatment from men,"
Mrs Nay said she hoped more women would come from abroad to help women to develop
Cambodian women needed "help with training to push themselves and get jobs,
as the level of women's education and knowledge is very low," she said.
"In the countryside, girls get very little schooling while in the city, girls
now stay on in school."
While women have become more assertive, not all of the changes have been good.
Mrs Phanny said: "The young are not well educated in sexual matters or relationships
and there has been a huge increase in prostitution - even high school girls are working
as prostitutes in Phnom Penh at night." Mrs Phanny said
"The development has been in dancing restaurants, not in agriculture. We have
to build the base from the bottom to the top.
"Wherever there are dancing restaurants the men will go, every night if they
have the money. The don't care about their wives and children."
She said most men used prostitutes and the more money they had the more they went
Women who do not have men as partners are not respected and men generally do not
have a good opinion of females.
"Men in Cambodia still look down on women who are widowed or unmarried. Men
like to make derogatory jokes about women," Mrs Nay said sadly.
Although most Cambodian men leave all the household work to their wives, equality
reigns in the homes of these two dynamic women.
"We share the home tasks in our house," Mrs Nay said. "And in our
home too," said Mrs Phanny.