Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia (Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory)

Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia (Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory)

Annuska Derks

Language: English

Pages: 258

ISBN: 0824832701

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"Khmer Women on the Move" offers a fascinating ethnography of young Cambodian women who move from the countryside to work in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh. Female migration and urban employment are rising, triggered by Cambodia's transition from a closed socialist system to an open market economy. This book challenges the dominant views of these young rural women - that they are controlled by global economic forces and national development policies or trapped by restrictive customs and Cambodia's tragic history. The author shows instead how these women shape and influence the processes of change taking place in present-day Cambodia.Based on field research among women working in the garment industry, prostitution, and street trading, the book explores the complex interplay between their experiences and actions, gender roles, and the broader historical context. The focus on women involved in different kinds of work allows new insight into women's mobility, highlighting similarities and differences in working conditions and experiences. Young women's ability to utilize networks of increasing size and complexity allows them to move into and between geographic and social spaces that extend far beyond the village context. Women's mobility is further expressed in the flexible patterns of behavior that young rural women display when trying to fulfill their own "modern" aspirations along with their family obligations and cultural ideals.

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spiritual potency and status, as an indication of their entrepreneurial skills and domestic responsibility as well as of their relegation to the informal sectors of the economy for survival (Brenner 1995; Yasmeen 2001; Seligmann 2001). These contradictory positions are related to interacting spheres of life that are affected by gendered ideologies, economic structures and political processes, and also by women’s own agency. The important economic role played by women in the household as well as

promotion girls, who are “no good” because their customers are mostly men. When Peou started working at her sister’s fruit-shake stall, she first had to overcome her shyness in her interactions with customers: “My sister blamed me for not being friendly Street Trade with customers, because I am not so talkative and am shy. [. . .] Yet, I learned by watching my sister Heang. Now she sometimes lets me sell all by myself. When I see a customer who looks easygoing I feel confident enough to

experience of modern urban life and, with it, an independence that their mothers never had. Such experiences involve the highly desired “modern” consumption and behaviors, but at the same time are marked by ambiguity, contestation and negotiation. In their struggle to strike a balance between what is acceptable or desirable modern behavior and what should be cherished as so-called village values, young rural women living and working in Phnom Penh variously explore the new opportunities open to

The city embodies a potential for creating new social relationships, environments and identities. This is perhaps most obvious for sex workers, who, due to the nature—or rather the stigma—of their work, are highly mobile and often prefer to keep their urban lives, as much as possible, separate from their rural background. The creation of new social relationships, environments and identities is also relevant for women in factory work and the street trade who, over time, may expand their social

especially in comparison with the loose trousers she usually wears. This caused a discussion among her roommates about whether the trousers were still decent or, as was finally concluded, too tight (and thus too sexy). Sophal was left to consider losing weight or giving the trousers to her younger, slimmer, sister. The distinction between what is acceptable and what is too modern is drawn most sharply in images of women. Munshi (2001: 6) notes how views of the “modern woman” in Asian contexts are

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