“My father (…) encouraged me to study”
My name is Pal K., I am 68 years old. I have three sons, they are all already married and I have nine grandchildren. I was born in Battambang. Now I live with the family of two of my sons, we are nine living in the same house. I am retired but I used to be a teacher in a primary school.
My father was also a teacher in primary school, he encouraged me to study. He really wanted me to work, maybe to become a teacher like himself. For me, it was not too hard to be a girl when I was young, it was fine.
“During that time, boys, girls, men or women, they all worked together”
During the Khmer Rouge era (see article on the Khmer Rouge) life was really hard. I was already married and I had my three sons to take care of, one of them was still a baby. I couldn’t do anything at first because my youngest son was too young, so I had to take care of him. My husband passed away during the genocide because he didn’t have anything to eat, he starved to death. My sister also died during the Khmer Rouge regime (see Kimleng’s interview). We couldn’t stay in town but we stayed in the province of Battambang. We had to work in the rice fields, we were forced to. As soon as my baby got a little older I had to work as well. I never thought I would live until now, it was so hard, I was really hopeless. During that time, boys, girls, men and women, we all worked together.
After the Pol Pot regime, I sold vegetables and fruits for a living. Then in 1980, the government released an announcement saying that they were looking for teachers, so I applied and I became a teacher. At the same time I was taking care of my children because they were still young. In 1981, I remarried, I actually married the husband of my late sister, his mother didn’t want him to stay alone so we got married. He passed away in 2010.
“Back in the 60’s, things were different”
Today, I feel like all my grandchildren, boys and girls, are treated the same. We treat them equally, we don’t make any differences.
Back in the time of King Sihanouk, in the 60’s, before the Khmer Rouge era, things were different. Only men could work and earn money. Women didn’t need to work, and the children didn’t need to work neither. Only men, usually the husbands, were responsible to sustain financially the household. But now, men and women are almost equal, they can both work, they can both study, it’s better than before. Before the wife could only do the housework and take care of the children, she couldn’t go out to work, she was housebound. A lot of women couldn’t even read or write Khmer because they were told that a woman’s place was within the house.
Today in some families, it’s the woman who goes out for work and the man who stays at home taking care of the children!
Today, if men can’t earn much money, women can work too because they need money. Before, it would have been very hard for a woman to work too if her husband couldn’t earn enough. I can see the difference between the situation today and the one in my days, now people are getting more educated. Before, only a few people were going to school, this is very good thing in my opinion.
“The education system in Cambodia did not change much”
The education system in Cambodia did not change much though. Before, if the school was too far away from the house, the family wouldn’t allow their children to go, so they would stay home instead and help at the farm or with the housework. However, in the city children were always sent to school. It’s the same today. The problem is that there is still not enough schools in the countryside in Cambodia. Also, sometimes, in the countryside, teachers don’t come to school during the time of the harvest of the rice and the students won’t attend neither because they have to help their parents in the rice fields as well.
Before, teachers used to get paid more than today. If there was only one teacher in the family, there was no need for anyone else to work, they were able to support the whole family. So the teachers did not do any extra work. But now, teachers make their students pay for extra lessons (see article on education) so they can have better living conditions. This is sad and it’s compromising the education of our future generation.
“Some old women are still thinking about keeping the culture very strict, me, (…) I’ve let it go”
Kimleng (see Kimleng’s interview), my grand-daughter, works until late, she comes home at night sometimes, people could be talking about that because she is Khmer and she is a girl. However, for our family it’s fine, no one is saying anything bad about us. But maybe in other families, people would be talking bad about the girl who is working until night. We still have this mindset in Cambodia. Girls get more judged than boys, it’s because of our culture and our religion. Like for instance, in Cambodia, Khmer girls shouldn’t be sexy.
Me, I am kind of an open minded person, I think that now things are fine for girls. Also because now, girls have access to technology and learn more about their rights. Only some old women are still thinking about keeping the culture very strict, but for me changes are fine, I’ve let it go!