As Cambodia’s cultural landscape continues changing shape like a sand dune in a storm, one group of voices can be heard (or read) loud and clear above the tumult. Cambodia’s female bloggers have carved out a proud, vibrant and relevant platform for themselves, guiding, leading, mentoring, commenting, laughing, questioning, critiquing and simply expressing themselves. And they’re not waiting for permission from anyone to do it.
For more than a decade, they’ve been in the vanguard of blogging in Cambodia (clogging as some call it), giving voice to that substantial section of the population whose desires and views have traditionally taken a back seat. But these women are unabashed, unafraid and unlimited in the topics they’ll broach. Not satisfied with waiting for power and a voice to be handed to them, these young women have empowered themselves, and their generation, with the boldness and courage of their visions and voices.
At first they wrote in English, partially to improve their skills, but changes in technology meant they were able to open up their audiences, though English is still common. And blogging was initially largely confined to educated citizens of the capital city. But now bloggers are logging on from all over the Kingdom, representing a wealth of experiences and perspectives that is lighting the path for their peers, and transforming society from within.
Here are just some of the voices of Cambodia’s wired generation who are not just leading the conversation, they’re changing the rules.
It’s impossible to talk about bloggers, let alone female bloggers, in Cambodia unless you start with Kounila Keo and Blue Lady, the blog she started back in 2007. As an outlet for her views and experiences, and a beacon to others, it is an important part of the journey that led Kounila to being recognised as one of the 300 personalities under 30 to follow in Asia by Forbes Magazine in February last year.
Her frank style and courage blazed the trail for many more to come, including Catherine Harry, the 23-year-old face behind A Dose of Cath, whose feminist blog calls on her readers to ‘Be loud. Be bold. Speak up and never be afraid. Our time is now. We need to be part of a change. If not now, when? If not us, who?”
Catherine’s transformative blog and vlog unblinkingly confront Cambodia’s social taboos and challenge traditions, especially those that would hold her back simply because of her gender. She tackles everything from perceptions of beauty to contraception to violence against women, and Everything in between. Her fun, frank style has led more than 200,000 people to follow her Facebook page.
Speaking to Cambodge Mag last year, she said she is not perturbed by those who would prefer she keep silent, because the role she plays is important. “‘Haters’ accuse me of breaking traditions, of not being a real Khmer. Traditional media do not question standards, if social media doesn’t play that role, who will?"
Taking a more agony-aunt style, DJ Nana, of DJ Nana TV, uses her radio show, blog and YouTube channel to dispense sisterly advice on love, life and labour, speaking straight to the hearts and souls of a generation of young Cambodians navigating a new, fast-moving world in which their parents can no longer guide them.
Of course, blogs are not the only recourse available to today’s young chroniclers. Thavry Thon proved this after she set up a blog that sought to record the experiences of women at work and in life, and transformed that knowledge into a book, “A Proper Woman”, which was published last year. The book seeks to set out the role that young women play in Cambodia today, and respectfully challenges the traditions and beliefs that would seek to contain their spirits and potential.
Among many other things, including running her own responsible travel company, Thavry is now leading the path for other young Khmer authors and has become a vocal advocate for creating the space in which they can breathe and grow.
It is a sign of how far the likes of Kounila Keo and her protégées have come that youth-culture has now joined traditional culture in the firing line of their verbal salvoes. In Ms Cheng’s Corner, Sok Cheng takes her curious mind and uses it to deliver delightfully quirky, irreverent and thoughtful swipes at the ideas, fads and pressures gripping the hearts, minds and souls of Cambodia’s young people. She calls on them to question everything, and especially themselves, seemingly guided by the belief that if we strive to understand each other more, we’d all be the happier for it. She writes with such a sharp eye for the absurd and wry sense of humour that it is impossible to tire of her words.
Of course, it is not only Cambodia’s women who have been taking to the blogosphere here. Many foreign nationals have taken to the waves to share their thoughts on food, architecture, culture and more, of which two in particular stand out today, though neither relates to issues specifically affecting women. Alison Carter is an archaeologist who has been in and out of Cambodia for more than 10 years now. In the course of that time, and her work, her blog Alison in Cambodia is pretty much essential reading for anyone who would like to understand more about what it takes to unearth the secrets of Cambodia’s past.
On a more urban footing, Cait and Tiff are two artists, a fashion designer and photographer, who use their blog to explore the delicious, beautiful and creative worlds around them. The magazine-style blog is a perky record of their passions for design, travel, food, fashion, and the artistic process. It’s beautifully put together, as you would expect, and opens up new dimensions of life here in the capital city, and beyond.
Shining a new light on how we perceive and experience the world is the goal of every writer. Some will change society; some will change their individual readers; some will change how we see the world, hopefully making it a more beautiful place to inhabit. All of these women have achieved these things in one way or another, armed with little more than their curiosity, courage, passion, and WiFi.