The uniformed women who promote beer in the country’s karaoke parlors, beer gardens and restaurants are frequent targets of verbal and physical harassment, violence and threats, officials said yesterday at the launch of a campaign intended to foster more respect and legal action for “beer girls.”
The campaign, organized by the NGO Care International and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, is attempting to address long-standing complaints about the treatment of women who serve beer and entertain customers.
With the financial crisis, many women have turned to beer promoting, bringing the total number to more than 5,000, said Hor Malin, secretary of state at the ministry.
“We launched this campaign because the harassment and violence on beer promoters is at a high level,” she said.
The campaign will educate promoters at 60 large beer gardens about the legal avenues for women who are violated and encourage and help them through the court system, making sure that cases are not settled out of court, she said.
It will also expand on a program that began in 2009 that places lighted signs in drinking venues warning customers about penalties for crimes such as threats, rape and other forms of violence. There are also signs telling customers, “Dignity and honor is the demand of all human beings,” and “Beer promoting is a job that has value and dignity.”
The campaign began as a pilot in six large entertainment venues, and the number will increase to 40 by the end of the year, and 60 in 2012.
“We have found that at those places, beer promoters were respected and given value and dignity by customers,” she said.
A 2005 study by Care International found that 83 percent of promoters surveyed said they faced verbal harassment and disrespectful behavior, 80 percent reported sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, and 60 percent reported being threatened verbally or physically, said Khun Sophea, Care’s campaign project manager. For many beer promoters, the situation has not changed, she added.
“We started this campaign because we have done a lot of research that shows that the beer promoters always face violence by the clients,” she said.
Am Sam Ath, technical monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, applauded the campaign, explaining that the atmosphere in beer gardens leads to disrespect and violence.
“Clients always force beer promotion girls to sit and drink, they touch their bodies, and sometimes coerce them to have sex. If the beer promotion girl does not follow, the client causes violence in the workplace,” he said.
Phuong Sophy, director of the anti-domestic violence and sexual assault bureau at the Interior Ministry, said the National Police would work with the Women’s Affairs Ministry to make sure cases are investigated and prosecuted.
He also said he found the signs helpful when he visited the restaurants displaying them.
“Even myself, I do feel hesitation about my actions when I see the lighted signs showing the [legal article] in the entertainment venue, which is effective and also reminds me,” he said.
Seang Seng, executive director of the Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters in Cambodia, said many workers feared losing their jobs if they complain about customers’ misbehavior. She said the campaign would do what many beer promoters felt powerless to accomplish.
“We face a lot of problems. We are upset when the client harasses our body,” she said. “If we have a problem with a client, we are scared of being blamed or fired from our job.”