CARE has spent many years working to improve the situation of beer promoters in Cambodia and reduce the harassment many experienced as an unavoidable part of the job. Tackling this isssue from many angles, CARE engages with employers, government, communities and beer promoters themselves in a model that has seen significant results over time.
Sovanna*, 27, has been working as a beer promoter for six years and has seen significant changes in this time. She started working with CARE three years ago, when CARE’s local partner the Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters in Cambodia (SABC) provided Sovanna with training to be a peer educator. This helped her understand her rights as woman and how to avoid confrontation with customers, as well as providing skills so she can share this information with other beer promoters.
Sovanna received her initial training over three years ago but she is still actively involved with SABC and CARE. In the last year, she has joined training to refresh her knowledge and she continues to attend monthly peer meetings to share her experiences and any issues that arise. She also gathered other beer promoters to join a law awareness session, where she updated her knowledge on laws regarding harassment and learned to be wary of men using new technology, such as showing suggestive videos on smartphones, to harass women. She says many women had not realised this was also a form of harassment.
The confidence Sovanna has gained through her experiences as a peer educator has had a positive impact on her career, as she has been promoted to be a supervisor. This in turn is making her awareness raising more effective. “I supervise around 30 girls who work across 40 different restaurants,” she says. “I give my colleagues daily briefings, which provide an ideal opportunity to share information and remain informed of any incidents which occur.”
She has found that these incidents have dramatically reduced. When she started working six years ago, Sovanna says she was harassed almost every day. Her sister, who also worked as a beer promoter, confirms this. However, looking back at the last year Sovanna says she herself has not experienced any harassment and knows of only one example of a colleague being harassed. “A customer had tried to fondle the woman’s breast and touch her inappropriately. The girl reacted with confidence, immediately calling security and contacting the outlet owner, who confronted the customer,” Sovanna recalls.
Sovanna says that there are a number of reasons why she and her colleagues are not being harassed as they once were. Firstly, she says that the beer promoters she works with have more confidence so customers are listening to what they say. Knowing that they have support from organisations such as SABC and CARE also helps them speak without fear to request that customers respect their rights.
The improved policies of the beer company she works for are also a key factor. Sovanna is lucky to work for a company which is a member of the industry association Beer Selling Industry in Cambodia (BSIC). The BSIC logo is clearly displayed on her uniform and Sovanna says that BSIC’s strict policies make it much easier to negotiate with customers. If men ask her to sit and drink with them she can calmly explain that this would cause her to lose her job; as a result customers do not bother her any more.
Sovanna says that the owners at beer outlets where she works have changed a lot over the past few years. “Before, they would worry about losing customers but now they are not afraid to call the police if there is a problem. Instead of being angry if a woman wishes to report harassment, they are now most likely to be annoyed that they were not told of any problems first.” Sovanna attributes this change to their increased engagement with meetings organised by CARE and SABC, as well as the fact that she sees many take an interest in the information peer educators share with other beer promoters in their restaurants and beer gardens.
Police have changed their attitudes as well. Sovanna says that they used to look down on beer promoters and did not value their job, but now they will take action when harassment is reported to them.
These changes have taken time and not everyone has been reached yet—Sovanna says that those working for companies without such rigorous policies are more likely to choose to sit with customers and allow men to touch them as they wish to gain larger tips. However, more and more customers, outlet owners and police – as well as beer promoters themselves – are recognising that harassment is a violation of their rights rather than an occupational hazard.
For Sovanna, the future looks very positive. She is currently saving to open her own coffee shop in the next few years. Using the knowledge she has gained from SABC, she aims to make sure her staff are treated well and that her business is a place where no harassment is tolerated.
* Names changed to protect identities.