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The code of conduct for women was written by the King in the early 19th century. These rules have been strictly implemented in the kingdom since then. But as modernity and globalisation took shape, Khmer women have also evolved. Many now prefer to enjoy their freedom and rights, rather than following the rules set upon them on how to behave in the society. As a result, women are judged if the acts of pursuing freedom oppose the norms.

This perspective, perhaps, was what drove Soth Bopha to write the book “Samrek Kmean Samleng”. Being a female writer and an advocate of feminism herself, Bopha writes about various provocative stories of women revolving around betrayal in the family, sex and virginity, and society and discrimination.

All her stories are factual and relevant. But it was on her story about sex and virginity that got my full attention. The author tries to debate about the oppressed culture that set women’s beha-viour in terms of relationships and intimacy.

Under the sub title “virginity”, Bopha presents the stigma that women face – being undervalued if they cannot keep their virginity for their husband or if they trade it for money. It is, in my opinion, an important factor for women to offer themselves only to their husbands. What I do not agree with is that while women are judged for their actions, men are having the time of their lives hooking up with other girls to satisfy their desires. Men are free to do sexual acts outside of their marriages, but women are mercilessly judged for doing the same.

Bopha also presented the sensitive issue on girls being pregnant before marriage. The story tells how society views a woman who conceives a child even before getting into formal and religious ties with a man. The character tries to question whether it really is a sin or not, or if abortion is part of the picture. Babies are gifts, and not a product of mistake. The character inspires readers by taking full responsibility of delivering and raising the baby in the best way she could. She, however, can’t help but blame the child’s father for being so weak and giving in to social discrimination.

The author also highlights the significance of sex education in schools – something that is not very open and common in Cambodia. As a result, students laugh and mock if the topic is raised inside classrooms. But it is highly imperative to educate the youth on safe and responsible sex so they don’t get themselves into troubles and problems. It is the task of the teacher to explain to his or her students the dos and don’ts of relationships and intimacy, and let them understand the consequences of their acts.

If these perspectives aroused your curiosity as well, grab a copy of the book. There are several other interesting stories inside Samrek Kmean Samleng.

Author: Soth Bopha

Publication: Puokmak, 2018

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