Beer promoters in Cambodia are often viewed negatively by those around them – for Davy this social prejudice even extended to her mother. However, her involvement with the Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters in Cambodia (SABC), which promotes the rights and safety of women working in the beer industry through peer education, helped her to overcome this prejudice and gain her family’s blessing for her work.
Davy’s mother wanted her to work at her auntie’s house for $15 a month. She thought this preferable to a profession which she viewed as “not respectable” where women “made themselves attractive by dressing like prostitutes”. Horrified that her daughter would consider such work, she chased Davy out of the house, saying, “If you don’t want to uphold our family’s dignity, get out of my house. No one in my family has ever been a prostitute.”
Faced with parental blame for “dishonouring” her family and increasing self-doubt about whether this was the right path to take, Davy hesitated about taking up a job as a beer promoter. She eventually took the role because she wished to earn enough money to be financially independent, but her mother continued to berate her for working in an environment she did not feel was appropriate for her respectable daughter. As a result, fear of further prejudice and criticism from the community led Davy to lie about her work when she spoke to neighbours, claiming she sold cosmetics.
However, Davy soon found that she enjoyed her work and she was more than equal to the task. “I found this job was easy. I just needed to sell beer – like selling other products for companies, it required hard working people who are skilled at selling and communicating. I love my job.”
When Davy’s friend encouraged her to join the SABC training programme, Davy was keen to get involved. She ended up volunteering to become one of their peer educators. Working with their colleagues, SABC’s peer educators teach life skills and help to increase workers’ self-esteem.
Davy also used the knowledge and confidence she gained from training to approach the subject with her mother once again. Using educational materials developed by SABC, she repeatedly challenged her mother’s views and slowly encouraged her to let go of her prejudice against the profession.
Davy’s persistence paid off. “Once I brought my mother a poem for International Women’s Day. This led her to have a serious talk with me and she said that she was wrong to forbid me to be a beer promoter. If she had known that this job was good and would be supported by training such as this, she would have allowed me to do it.” The constant evidence of training and support convinced her that her daughter’s job was having a positive impact on her life and offering her opportunities to develop as a person as well as earn an income.
Gaining the approval of her mother meant a lot to Davy, who said, “I was so surprised and happy that it brought tears to my eyes.” The complete change of attitude on the part of her mother was further demonstrated when she freely gave her permission for Davy’s sister to also become a beer promoter, encouraging her to become a member of the SABC so she could benefit from the advice and support they offer. The girls now freely admit that they are beer promoters and they are proud of their jobs.
Social stigma in any form can have a negative impact on young women and, as Davy discovered, family pressure can make this even more difficult to overcome. But Davy also demonstrates how supporting women with the knowledge and the confidence to stand up for their wishes and face the world with pride can help to overcome prejudice in all aspects of their life.