Cambodian women who flouted archaic rules are now role models promoting gender equality

Generations of rural Cambodian girls were taught traditional rules for how to be a ‘proper woman’, dutiful wife and home maker. Some rebelled, determined to carve their own paths.

Thavry Thon smiles as she recalls sitting in her classroom at age 11 reciting verses from the Chbab Srey. “I still remember today how to sing those songs,” she says.

Born in Cambodia on Koh Ksach Tunlea, a small island 40km south of Phnom Penh, like most her peers Thon, now 28, was raised in a traditional rural community. According to societal norms, Thon’s life was laid out for her. She would attend school before dropping out in her mid-teens, secure a menial job, marry, have children and look after the home.

Throughout this the Chbab Srey was integral for her, as it provides a code of conduct for all Cambodian women – for men there is the Chbab Proh, which is a much shorter rule book.

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