Cambodia with population about 14 million people, more than 80 percent of the population live in rural areas and are mainly in agricultural activities. The farming productions offer only about three to six months works including from land preparation, transplanting and harvesting. Besides farming, and for an additional source income, rural people look for livelihoods diversifications to supplement their family living. Some others might choose to work as laborers in nearby district and some engage in small entrepreneur activities. However, rural provinces do not have sufficient jobs during the off- farm period, this push factor compels men, women and young adults to leave their villages for year-round to urban areas for employment and send remittances back home (Gorman et al., 1999). Without acknowledging what types/sectors of employments they will get once arrived, these rural people are scattered across sectors of services and manufacturing industries. In 2006, there were 330,000 total employed workers in the garment industry whom majority came from rural areas and more than 90 percent were young women, in addition, there were 260,000 young men worked in construction while service works such as in hotels and restaurants together produced 61,000 jobs (CDRI, 2007).

There are already plenty of case studies have been conducted within the formal employment in manufacturing and services, as addition in this particular case, this article takes a closer look into food and beverage services entertainment establishments which occupy and grow almost every corner of the city Street, particularly popular to be known as Beer Gardeni. However, before getting into such beer garden entertainment where the rural migrants work and experience differently in Phnom Penh, first I would like to draw your attention on general ideas of the works that women and men would find in the city.

In the off-farm season generally begin from November, many farmers would have already harvested their crops; therefore it is good time for women, men and youth to move to Phnom Penh where more work is available in both formal and informal.


In informal sector, many of these new comers concentrate in work as motor-taxis/cyclosii drivers, street vendors, cart pullers and construction workers (ILO, 2006; CDRI 2007). Among the ruralurban migrants of 600 people interviewed (350 were men), there were more men in the informal economy sector comprised of construction workers, cart pullers, car washers, motorcycletaxi/cyclos drivers and women are mainly participated in the formal employment such as garment factories, waitress, casino workers and some 21 out 30 on petty traders/street vendors, (CDRI 2007). However, among the different types of works and different sectors, both males and females all face troubles and problems that need to challenge as living in the city do not seem as simple as it would be, especially those who are new to the city.
Table 1: Gender of Young Migrant Workers Interviewed

Source: -2007: Cambodia’s Leading Independent Development Policy Research Institute (CDRI)

General challenges and difficulties facing in the city:
The new comers or continuing migrant workers in the city usually face various forms of difficulties and risks both with the living condition and the jobs/work environment they engaged. Discrimination, violence, harassment and security could happen every time in both forms of employment. Some may work longer than 5 hours per day while some others work in the informal job may even be more than 7 hours (ILO, 2006). Adjustment to these kinds of working environments required sometime to get used to it. For example a case study by CDRI reported that motorcycle/cyclos drivers are mainly faced with money problems in negotiating with customers did not pay upon agreed fees and security problems working during the night time (CDRI 2007). Street sellers such as cart pullers clashed into conflict with security guard or policemen and being perceived as cheap labor. Those who are working in the informal works did not like the fact that these authorities should be taking care of the security order but as part of the problem than the solution to any problems they encountered. In the formal sectors who are

majority females in garment factories, casinos and service work in restaurants may have encountered harassment than other groups. A similar research by International Labor Organization joint with the World Bank program targeting Better Factories Cambodia and Justice for the Poor found that sexual harassment and non sexual harassment in garment factories were commonly found and also “harassment from managers, co-workers and men along the road” (ILO and World Bank).

Within these different group of workers and specific challenges the migrant face, I selected a service work in restaurant which I have named the term as “Beer Garden” since it offers a very mixture of service such as serving food, drinks, music and most of the time indirect sex works from promotion beer sellers.

Entertainment Establishments: General Situations
I would begin with an overview of services entertainments in Phnom Penh as it is quite complex to understand. Within these establishments there are many other hidden services such as drug, commercial sex and game gambling available offering indirectly which people cannot easily notice, unless informed or experienced. While some other entrainments provide services ranging from Karaoke bar, live music restaurant, beer gardens, night clubs and pubs. Entertainment businesses in Phnom Penh employ both men and women to serve different tasks with different time shifting. The services rang from food, drinks, live music, Karaoke, girlcomforters to be seated next to the customers. Across these types of services, women are employed as waitresses and beer girls for primarily male customers, picking ice and pouring beers into glasses where they can be subjected to sexual harassment when getting in contact with those customers. Some men are employed in guests escorting to tables, drinks and food ordering and table clearing. Workers in these entertainments work on fix salaries, some are on commission and some receive both salaries and commission. For those women who are working on commission based, certain quotas are needed to achieve every night or month. They also receive different privileges and benefits depend on how skillful their services are in selling food and drinks as well as satisfying customers in song requesting, girls selecting to be seated next to


and for dancing. So, to be able to reach these benefits/tips, women and men have differently and have to compete on their work.

Yet, men who are working in the entertainment sector tend to be less in contacts with customers as they are generally do not the direct , so likely the benefit is very little from the customers’ tips and appreciations. In contrast, women have a much higher relationships to different customers, receive more tips, sell more beers and eventually at the end of the day/month, she gets more salaries. From this closer interaction with customers, sometimes she was offered for an overnight service if she was pretty hot and good at serving, or she will be convinced/forced/pressured to accept the clients overnight sex workiii. And if she does not want to, she is in the risk of losing her job whether fix or commissioned base as less men will not buy her beers or services. However, for those women in the sexual relationship are everyday being at-risk in putting themselves into certain degree of STDs infections, abuses such as sexual harassment and violence.

In above brief context, this case study will look at how entertainment service employments, particularly in Beer Garden have impacts on men and women socially (how people value women and men going out to work and especially in beer garden), physically (harassment, sexual violence) and how this transformed into opportunity inequality both men and women economically (income earns). In addition, how women and men challenge and find solutions towards the issue.

Socially and Cultural Perceptions
In Cambodian society, some social norms and perceptions regarding some employments remain very vulnerable for those who are in sectors of being valued as cheap work or work which are not valued or not respected. Such as work in the beer garden, beer promotion girls or girls who are working in the beer garden are perceived as sex ‘workers’ involving sexual service with customers and sometime sexual harassment (ILO, 2006). From occasional unwanted aggressive sexual behavior of the men at her workplace, another greatest is the discrimination women face from the outside community of what ILO research among the Cambodians’ promotion girls


confirmed that “more than 70 percent claim that they have been victims of public harassment and, occasionally, even physical abuse”(ibid)

In almost every beer garden or drinking restaurant, there will be many different kinds of beer sellers for different brand. And I mentioned earlier these beer sellers have to work really hard, sometimes the work required her to stay until 12 o’clock mid night in order to reach certain sale quotas in order to receive a fixed salary as customers have not left. Therefore, it is not a surprising when you go to have drink or food at night at restaurant and beer garden, there will be many beer girls coming around and offering the type of drinks she is selling and keep insisting something like “please drink my beer, darling”…I remember once time I and other friends went for a drink after the final exam in a beer garden in Phnom Penh, once we were just got into the beer hall entrance, there were already many girls greeting us and hold my hands proposing her beers, this has lead to belief by other of my friends saying that these beer girls are like prostitute. The term prostitute or sex work is a very stigmatized by the society as dirty work and beneath one’s dignity even thought they are freelance indirect sex workers. Cambodian women are supposed to be virgin or virginity-obligation by family, if not, she must be a sex-worker, and therefore faces the lowest social esteem (Giebels, Internet site). But how about those men who are also working in this kind of entertainment business? Are they not socially blamed for the fact that they are working in the beer garden while this beer garden usually considered a place of indirect sex work? Or they received better societal treatment?

A Khmer influential proverb saying “Men are gold, Women are white cloth” (Soprach, 2008). This saying is still a gendered myth in most society of Cambodian today. This “Women white cloth” limitation has put women into a very down position in the society if she was once considered as dirty and working in such place of various exposal of prejudice especially being stereotyped as sex workers. Not just being stereotyped by beer customers who came for the drink as “girls to satisfy men” but these beer sellers are also discriminated and looked-down in public due to their highly visibility as beer promotional sellers by their uniforms of the beer brands and physical abuse from their larger communities as perception that they are involved in sex work. (Lubek, 2005; Lotus Outreach International 2008). The notion of white cloth once dropped on the mud, it never be cleansed, while gold are still gold even it is full of muddy. While there are

also men working in the beer garden but they are not considered as sex workers because they are not beer sellers as beer promotional sellers in the beer garden. Men who are considered as gold and will still remain as gold if he used to involve in some kinds of dirty works. And for men are working the beer garden never be judged as bad or dirty work, yet, as good opportunities as working with many nice

Harassments and Abuses
Leaving families, relatives and a secured home in the rural villages to work in the beer garden in the city is a big step toward self independent and be the good girl of the family who sends remittance regularly. Working late into the mid night at beer garden with surrounded by crowded of male clients, sometimes women are compelled or forced to drink, if they do not drink, the customers will not buy her beers anymore and she will loss the job. And because certain benefits whether commission, tips or more amount of beer purchased, “an evening of forced beerdrinking with tourists or wealthy local men sometimes ends in a proposition to exchange sex for money” (Ethical Beer Press release, 2006) The beer garden work can be both profitable, hazardous and most of the time working in such environment can be very abusive. In fact, the role of beer sellers (promotional girls) is to make sure that she sells and promotes the beer company’s products which she represents. But this tends to be believed and gone beyond what her role in order to sell more beer and from the men’s perception is that these beer sellers are not just selling beers but also selling their body. So men have the rights treat her in what way men want as they are paid for that. Or because men bought the beers does not mean they have also automatically own the beer sellers and have the rights to touch her unwelcomingly. This is what commonly referred as “harassment is flirting and just a bit of workplace fun” (Hossain B, 2008). Another good example is a case of beer sellers have selling beer in Phnom Penh for a living was slapped twice by a male customer because she refused to have sex with him and if she tell the restaurant owners, they just responded she is not good server and therefore being harassed is a way of life as beer girl (Hawkins, 2005). Besides, not only women face harassment within her workplace, there has also risks of rape and abuse on the way back, especially after mid night


where she has to commute home. Case reported by USAID also found similar issues where independent or indirect sex workers such as beer girls experience was chased and forced rape by gangsters while she was waiting for a motor driver back (USAID, 2006). So, are these women blamed for being so convincing to sell their beer which is why allowing men to abuse her? This is still a big question whether there are any legal instruments to help women in case of such sexual violence. If a woman reported, she would be told to be patient and rape or sexual violence with sex workers is seemed not surprising at all (ibid).

Income Opportunities:
It is almost everywhere we can see different types of work are undertaken different gendered. This gender role as a socially constructed has defined certain job for male and female. Likewise, the beer garden especially those who sell the beers are very feminization of labor of what people believe that how beer sellers are targeted as female and this femalisation often refer as indirect sex work for better income. Women selling beer might earn approximate USD60-USD80 per month and the commission promotion agents are paid for a case of beer ranges from USD 3.50 to USD 6.00 per case and about half her income goes to support their family at home (Australian Council of Trade Unions, 2006). To supplement their income, other sources of earning might be needed to adopt such as “accepting propositions from tourists and local beer drinkers and exchange sex for money” (Cambodian Beer Promotion Women). In adaptation has made women even in more severely condition males under the power of male clients, relatives and society who see them as prostitute.

Male workers working in the beer garden in fact do not have such as much opportunities to work since the job itself targets women in which the demand to meet the customers’ needs. However, as I noted earlier in this essay that man also work in the beer garden but not in the same position as women. Women working in beer garden are considered as beer sellers, promotional girls and some time indirect sex workers. In contrast to men, men work as table clearing, bringing food, guest escorting, checking if customers are nicely served. In addition to these works, male workers also sometime arrange girls to serve certain customers, by trying to look for nice girl for his customers in return having some tips or commission share among the service women received.

Based on several cases above, there are some implications which these rural-urban migrants experienced gender inequality and have faced unequal position in the urban area, therefore two of the main factors affecting their effort are lay out here. First is the social and cultural

perspective towards women. Being a good daughter/girl of the family, women have owed the biggest gratitude and debt to their parents which in return good daughters should work as hard as she can in order to support their parents. But working means nothing without sending money back home during working in Phnom Penh. And this obligation of continuing to support family at home is putting women into different circumstances of whatever work she could work in order to satisfy their parents. One of these jobs would have found besides working in garment factories is beer garden where they can earn extra money from commission and tips and some time forced into prostitutions. As in beer garden labels women works as not respected by communities and society as beer sellers are considered as prostitute and prostitute is no longer a virgin women, therefore, those who are not virgin before marriage are devalued. In contrast to men with the principle of “Men are gold and women are white cloth”, men working in the beer gardens are not considered as prostitute no being blamed of what his works are, what activities he done, who relationships he is with, he is still considered as gold.

Second, harassment for beer sellers is frequently occurred considered as women’s faults and division of work. Women are not good at serving and they therefore deserve such harassment. Women have been imaged as under control of male dominant in workplace and public and yet no one would believe her if she complaint as being harassed or abused since the perceptions that it is “OK” that women such as beer sellers who labeled as prostitutes. However, men who are working in this establishment are producing their power by assigned as the one who take care and watch beer sellers’ work, bringing them to clients upon requests and solve some problems with there is. This arrangement of work between male and females have looked down into women’s capacity in solving and defending herself as was constructed to listen to clients, treat them what they need and if harassment taking place with certain circumstances, male workers are required to mediate the conflicts. This have exactly limited her decision in negotiating her daily lives and in return created a dependent power on male workers.

Finally, as I have discussed earlier that the works within beer garden is some ways downgrading women’s position to men, so how can this be improved so that there will be a better gender benefit/equality? Below are some recommendations which would help transformed better position of women. • Employers should make sure that in his/her workplace, there will be no incidences or reduced of physical and verbal abuse and substance abuse by properly treating workers well as well as customers. • Message campaign to men, women and especially public awareness to raise their understanding about working condition of beer sellers and seek proper and equal treatment to women as human being with dignity, respect their working survival that have saved lives of other dependents on her at rural villages. • Proper training with appropriate time setting to be provided to beer sellers, male workers in beer garden and employment on gender issues, occupational health, safety and risks which will help to reduce their vulnerability at work and improve their bargaining power.


Australian Council of Trade Unions (2006) New Campaign To Lift Wages and Prevent HIV Deaths Among Beer Promotion Women, website:, retrieved on 15-10-2008 Beer Girls Advocacy Project, retrieved on 09-10-2008 ( Cambodian Beer Promotion Women, Beer Girl, retrieved on 13-10-2008 Cambodia’s Leading Independent Development Policy Research Institute- CDRI (2007) Youth Migration and Urbanisation in Cambodia, Working Paper 36, November 2007 Ethical Beer, (2006), Press Release, Why are Cambodian ”beer girls” still at risk? Retrieved on 10-010-2008, website: Hossain B. J. (2008) Industrialization, Technology Occupational Health and Safety: Lecture notes, AIT, Thailand Lubek, I. (2005)The Psychology of Women Section Review – Vol. 7 No. 1 – Spring ILO and Economic Institute of Cambodia, (2006), Handbook on Decent Work in the Informal Economy in Cambodia. Gorman, S. et al (1999) Cambodia Development Resource Institute, Phnom Penh, Gender and Development in Cambodia: Working Paper 10 ILO and World Bank,(2006) Justice for the Poor Program, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Women and work in the garment industry Hawkins, K (2005) the Cambodia Daily 2005, Wednesday, June 15, 2005, retrieved on 02-10-2008: International Labour Organization, (2006). Cambodia’s ‘Beer Promotion Girls’, their recruitment, working conditions and vulnerabilities. Retrieved on 25-10-2008 Giebels, R (2003). A timebomb is ticking in Cambodia. Aids is spreading fast. Cause: Cambodian sexual attitudes. "Married women aren't just that pretty, compared to prostitutes." NRC Handelsblad, August 19 2003, p.4, , Retrieved on 10-10-2008 Soprach , T (2006). The Impact of Premarital Sex amongst Young People in Cambodia, Master’s degree thesis., the University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. USAID (2006) Violence and exposure to HIV among sex workers in Phnom Penh,Cambodia

End Notes:
Beer garden is type of restaurant which serves food, drink, music, Karaoke and some time indirect sex work from beer promotional girls (comfort-girls-Khmer slang). ii Cyclos is the form of transpiration which drivers (generally men) drive passengers by foot using two wheels bike. iii I prefer to use the term “work” even women are forced or voluntary into commercial sex since I personally believe in whatever circumstances, she has the right to her own preference of work, decision to participate or not, and whatever she earns, it is valued and must be considered a paid work, not just low skill, unpaid and uncounted. By incorporating women income as getting from paid work, we would be able to empower them and raise their self-confident in the community and her decisions.


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