Can garment factories be a liberator for women?
on Phnom Penh Pal (Cambodia), 03/Sep/2014 16:30, 34 days ago
In Cambodia, there is literally one rule for girls and a different one for boys. When they are pre or early teens, girls will be taught theCh’bap Srey– the women’s law, which prescribes ideal female behaviour and their subservience to men. The rules for boys are much more lenient and they generally enjoy a higher status in society. There is a saying that boys are like a bar of gold and girls are like a white, linen cloth. A bar of gold can be bashed around and still retain its value, but when a white, linen cloth receives even just a tiny stain, it is forever ruined.The discrimination between boys and girls is evident in education levelsof adult women. The literacy rates of women aged 65+ is 25% compared to a male rate of 75%. Seventy percent of women aged over 25 have not completed primary school compared to only 47% for women. However, these women are suffering from discrimination of the past and there are signs that girls of today are getting an equal chance. Literacy rates for girls aged between 7 and 24 are virtually the same as for boys (1 percentage point different) and net enrolment rates in primary school is equal to that of boys.There are still gender roles and expectations of appropriate female behavior but the rise of something usually considered negative may challenge these. Those exploitative, faint inducing garment factories are creating a huge demand for employed labour, something new for Cambodia, and that demand is being filled by women.Every morning, you can see trucks crammed with standing women, being taken to the factories. When a shift ends, you see a mass exodus of women in pyjamas. While their husbands may be picking up work here and there, the women are earning a regular wage. The effect of this is important even if the wage is low. Women hold the money in Cambodia but it is men who control what it is spent on, and how much is given to her in the first place. With women now earning a wage, that control of how much the woman receives may diminish.Traditionally, women would not leave the home, and even after marriage the husband would move into the in-laws house. Women may grow up, marry, parent and grow old in the same place. But garment factories are pulling young women from their rural homes and moving them into a new world; a new world with new rules.Unmarried, young women are moving into urban areas where garment factories are and leaving behind their parents. They may still be living with relatives - brothers, uncles, aunts etc - but they are far enough away that the rules parents may impose lose their strength. This extends to escaping from the pressure of an arranged marriage, something still common in Cambodia. Girls can have the chance to find somebody themselves (with parental approval) and a happy couple find their own place to live together, as it would be impossible to live with the in-laws hundreds of miles away from work in Phnom Penh.As this new industry may challenge traditions, there is an older industry that also pulls girls from their homes and draws them into labour. The sex industry is rife throughout Cambodia, driven by Cambodians rather than expatriates. Some young girls, not finding jobs or income in their villages, may follow the dirt path to Phnom Penh and find themselves in karaoke clubs or massage parlours, rather than garment factories. In all of these workplaces, young girls will be working and sending money home, but unless it is the latter, they are probably having to lie about where they get it from. The boys who gave them the money in the first place are still gold though.Gordon