I’m writing this blog post in Siem Reap at an incredibly cute café called Upstairs. One of my favorite things about Siem Reap – most famous for being the site of the Angkor Wat complex – is the eclectic mix of cafes, restaurants, and bars, each with their own distinctive character. Upstairs, for example, is reminiscent of grandma’s house – warm, delicious baked goods, French-inspired décor, teapot-shaped and polka dot-clad coasters and menus, etc. (Andrea, if you’re reading this, this place has your name all over it, and will definitely be a stop on the Andrea/Kristin Cambodian tour next week :))
This photo of Upstairs Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor
As another example, last night, the friend that I am visiting and I went to this creative new bar call Asana. It’s constructed to look like a traditional wooden Khmer house on stilts and when you enter, it feels as if you’re in a completely different time period: the walls and floors are made of unfinished wood, plump rice sacks are used as lounging and sitting tools, hammocks beckon the lazy traveler. We sipped red sangria – tasty enough to gain the stamp of approval of my friend, who has lived in Spain and tasted her fair share of sangria – and complementary tasters of their pineapple-infused and ginger and chili-infused liquors – delish!
Places like Upstairs and Asana don’t seem to exist in the US in such numbers as they do out here in Cambodia (judging from unscientific and anecdotal research, of course). I don’t think it’s a lack of creativity, because in major metro areas in the US you obviously have a much larger critical mass of people and thus potential entrepreneurs than you do here in Cambo. I actually think it’s more of a product of the lack of regulation and bureaucratic red tape that exists in places like Cambodia. It’s so easy to open a store here; the barrier to entry is low and seems to encourage more people to take risks. Plus, I’m betting that a place like Asana, with its unique construction on stilts, would violate a bunch of health codes, or at least take an eternity to gain approval, not to mention the approval it would take to bottle and sell those infused liquors I mentioned. Such regulation stymies creativity. Now I’m sounding like a Republican; weird.
Anyways, the real reason I wanted to write this blog post was to talk a little about domestic violence in Cambodia. I recently ran across some statistics from the UNDP’s annual Human Development Report and it was disturbing. These stats are from a random sample of about 20,000 women across Cambodia:
20% of women aged 40-49 believed it was justified for a husband to beat his wife if she refuses to have sex with him
Nearly half (40%) of women aged 30-49 believed it was justified for a husband to beat his wife if she neglected the children.
Two out of ten (roughly 20%) women age 40-44 believed it was justified for a husband to beat his wife if she burned the food.
Nearly half of all respondents (47%) agreed that is was justified for a husband to beat his wife for at least one of the six specified reasons (i.e. she burns the food, she argues with him, she goes out without telling him, she neglects the children, she refuses to have sex with him, she asks him to use a condom).
This is utterly disgusting, but indicative of a widespread cultural acceptance of women as inferior to men – and it manifests itself in additional ways beyond these statistics, from the prostitution industry to the double-standard of virginity expectations that exist for women versus men.
Can you even imagine a woman in the US saying that it was OK for her husband to beat her if she burned dinner? It’s stats like these that illuminate how far Cambodia has to go. Say what you will about the Western world’s concepts of “development” and “progress” – shout-out to Micah in all his anti-development, anarchic glory – but in terms of gender equity and human rights, Western progress is a good thing.
P.S. For those that are following the story I recently posted about the four men who were beaten by one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal aides and his entourage, the four men have accepted compensation offers from the suspects ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 and are no longer pressing charges. It remains to be seen whether the court will take action. Cambodian justice in a nutshell.