Finding the right man to marry is hard enough at the best of times, but it is particularly tough if you are a young Cambodian woman with no wealth to offer a prospective groom, a recently released report has found.
The “Participatory Poverty Assessment,” conducted by the Asian Development Bank in 2001, found that, in general, Cambodian women shoulder a heavier portion of poverty’s burden than men.
One consequence of poverty peculiar to young women is the difficulty of finding a suitable husband, the report says. Parents often pressure their daughters to find a source of income, which will in turn result in a successful marriage. This, respondents suggested, frequently ends in young women traveling to urban centers and being lured into sex work.
“When young women leave the village, given their lack of education, they might end up working for some rich family as a maid or as a beer hostess in a bar or restaurant, or even as a sex worker,” one Kandal province respondent said. “If such young women come back to the village with a lot of money then perhaps no one will care, but until this day we have not seen young women bring much money back to the village—at least not enough to buy land, draft animals or farm implements,” the resident continued.
Poverty breeds pragmatism, the report suggests, and traditional concepts of “good girls” and “bad girls” are swiftly abandoned when a “bad girl” comes back from the city with money. “A young woman with money, regardless of how she earned it, enhances her marital prospects,” the report says.
“The Khmer always argue that the honor of their young women is important,” said an elderly ethnic Vietnamese resident of Kandal province. “Having access to land for growing rice or other crops or a boat to go fishing is also important for survival…. I do not think that any young man would marry a young woman that did not come from a family with land or a boat or, preferably, both.”