It’s been an exceptionally varied week. It started on Monday with a short Writing Through ‘Taster’ workshop for the students in the Gender Equity Program of Bakong Motawni Junior High School, as supported by Caring for Cambodia. Gender Equity issues are hugely important in Cambodia, and are really just starting. We’re not only talking about equal pay for equal work here, although that issue does come up. This program targets the very beginning concepts of gender roles within the community and family, the development of respect for women and the understanding by boys and men that women have the same basic rights as they do. As always, I started with a theme which, this time, was Human Rights. What rights do we have? To education? To work? To protection and safety? How about the right to choose what work we do, and whether we work at all? And children — do they have a right not to work, but to go to school? All of this was discussed and after a brainstorm of words, turned into a poem in English. As so often happens, the kids were frightened at first, of me and of this new way of talking, thinking and using language. But they persevered and produced something special:
Man and Woman Equal
By the Bakong Motwani Gender Equity Group
Girl and boy studying
at school
Listen to the teacher
and write a letter
to speak English
to think about the lesson because they want to know more about learning
It is our right.
It is our right to think about our future
Our right to imagine
to participate
to explore
to speak out
to be protected
to study
to live
to be equal
Two days later, there was another sort of gender equity on display — perhaps less serious, but also important. Siem Reap is in the midst of a music festival, with concerts happening all over town. Wednesday night there was a concert (outdoor, of course) featuring the band. Dengue Fever. I had heard of them for several years, but had never had the chance to see them or hear their music. The band comes from L.A., actually, but the lead singer, Chhom Nimol, is a Cambodian woman and part of the enormous Cambodian population there. She sings mostly in Khmer, as does her all-American male band, occasionally. But it really feels like it is her band and her music, and she creates an unusual melding of Cambodian rhythms and tonalities with Western indie rock. Her dress was Cambodian-style modest and beautiful, and her dance moves took more from classic Cambodian ballet (Apsara) than the bump-and-grind of Western performances. Really, they were great. I loved them, as did the mixed crowd of ex-pats and Cambodians. Here’s a taste for you: