Supporting women to support each other: changing attitudes towards beer promoters in Cambodia
It is estimated that there are over 4,000 beer promoters in Cambodia. Often paid on a commission-only basis, beer promoters are exposed to high levels of alcohol consumption and alarming rates of violence and harassment: a survey revealed that 67 per cent had faced unwanted sexual touching, 38 per cent had experienced physical abuse and 36 per cent had experience threatening or coercive abuse.
CARE in Cambodia has been working to change this. Working through the Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters in Cambodia (SABC), CARE has helped women establish peer groups to share key information and support each other to stand up for their rights.
Saveoun* is just one of the beer promoters who has received training and support to become a peer facilitator for SABC. Her role is to share her knowledge with her colleagues, ensuring they know their rights and are equipped with practical ways to withstand abuse in the workplace. The initiative also encourages women, who often work in competition, to look out for each other and value themselves.
Speaking of the knowledge she has gained from the training, Savoeun says, “It helps to have better understanding and knowledge so that I can use this to explain to others what my job is all about. I also help the association with mobilising beer promoters, waitresses and their families to understand that beer promotion, even though working at night, it is a valuable and dignified vocation.”
Saveoun also says that it is important to know that she has a support system behind her, with SABC and CARE Cambodia providing valuable tools, awareness campaigns and advocacy to further promote the message that harassment of beer promoters is unacceptable. Signs have been placed in beer outlets publicising laws on harassment. Police have received training on gender-based violence and the legal procedures for bringing cases to court. Beer garden owners have formed a working group, while CARE has encouraged beer companies to comply with the Beer Selling Industry of Cambodia’s (BSIC) code of conduct for beer promoters. This includes employment contracts with salaries and benefits, safe transport to and from work, dignified uniforms, and sessions on sexual and reproductive health and negotiation with customers.
However, the challenges that beer promoters face are not just in the workplace – stigma in broader society can often mean these women face criticism from their communities. Channika*, a single mother with an eight-year-old son to care for, says, “Whenever, I dressed up and left for work, my neighbour often called rude names, which hurt me a lot, but I did not know how to respond or explain to them.”
Her involvement with SABC – for which she is now a peer facilitator – has completely changed her life, both in terms of her confidence and her interactions with other community members. “My neighbours also changed their attitude towards me. They speak to me politely and even admire me. They say ‘Wow, you are great that you can be both a beer promoter and teacher. You can teach others now, when before you could barely read’.” Confidence in themselves and their rights is a key step for women in the fight to end violence against them, which can take many forms.
Working with men is also an important part of changing attitudes towards beer promoters and Cambodian women in general. CARE has organised workshops with young male students ask them to reflect on their interactions with their families and consider similarities or differences between genders, aiming to encourage respect for women within their lives and in society.
In Savoeun’s words, beer promoters have a valuable and dignified vocation and they deserve respect for the work they do. By ensuring that women, their families, customers and the communities around them understand this, CARE Cambodia hopes to continue to improve their working conditions and prevent them from having to suffer any form of violence.
*Names have been changed