By Matt Blomberg
PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A crackdown in Cambodia on women who wear provocative clothing while selling goods via Facebook live streams was slammed by women’s rights groups on Wednesday as dangerous and baseless.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said low cut tops were an affront to Cambodian culture and ordered authorities to track down Facebook vendors who wear them to sell items like clothes and beauty products – a popular trend in the conservative country.
“Go to their places and order them to stop live-streaming until they change to proper clothes,” the prime minister told the government’s Cambodian National Council for Women on Monday.
“This is a violation of our culture and tradition,” he said, adding that such behaviour contributed to sexual abuse and violence against women.
While Cambodia’s young population is increasingly educated, many expect women to be submissive and quiet, a legacy of Chbap Srey, an oppressive code of conduct for women in the form of a poem that was on primary school curricula until 2007.
The national police posted a video to Facebook on Wednesday, in which a Cambodian woman makes a public apology for sullying the “tradition and honour of Cambodian women” by wearing “extremely short and sexy clothes” in her online sales pitches.
Facebook was not immediately available to comment.
Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed on Wednesday that authorities were “taking action” in line with the prime minister’s orders. He referred further questions to a police spokesman who could not be reached immediately.
Amnesty International regional director Nicholas Bequelin said the prime minister’s comments were a “dangerous instance of victim blaming”.
“This rhetoric only serves to perpetuate violence against women and stigmatise survivors of gender-based violence,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
One in five Cambodian men said they had raped a woman in a 2013 United Nations survey.
Ros Sopheap, head of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said the government should look at the reasons why women sell goods online instead of dictating what they wear.
“They always talk about culture, culture, culture,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “What about jobs? What about education? These things are broken in Cambodia. And what about people’s right to make a living?”
Seven Cambodian women’s rights groups pointed out that the women vendors had breached no law.
“There is no evidence-based research that affirms that women’s clothing choice is the root cause of degradation of social morality,” they said in an open letter.
(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)