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Promotion de la femme et sexualité conjugale en temps de SIDA. : Le ‘principe de coupure' chez les Cambodgiennes instruites

Abstract : "Promotion of Women and conjugal Sexuality confronted to the AIDS Epidemics".

The article describes the changing roles of Cambodian wives and husbands in the wake of the drastic social changes that Cambodian society has experienced in the past thirty years. In particular, the Aids epidemics which began in the 1990s has been instrumental both in changing the existing social practices and in revealing transformations. When she began her field research on the influence of the Aids epidemics on Cambodian society, the author assumed that urban, educated women who held positions in the government and NGOs were most likely to be involved in activities related to women promotion and to have much to say about changing gendered roles. So the author interviewed 47 of these women (in Khmer), mostly in Phnom Penh, between April and June 1999.
The article first describes the social and political environment of the fight against the Aids epidemics; the fight was not very strong at the beginning of the 1990s but progressively was put on top position of the Cambodian government's agenda. The paper goes on with examining the public debate on the opportunity of legalizing prostitution which was perceived as being responsible for the outburst of the Aids epidemics. This debate involved individuals adopting a pragmatic attitude, and others claiming that prostitution was destroying “the true Cambodian values”. Moreover, women's organizations, political parties and NGOs had often developed perceptions that Cambodian men had so far failed at creating a peaceful, fair and economically developed society. These organizations compared this failure with the “ancient good times” back to the Angkorian times, when women were supposed to be the rulers of society.
What do interviewees think about women's social status and gendered roles in Cambodian society and particularly in married couples ? Field data reveals that they all think that the social status of women is too low: Cambodian women's activities, they say, are limited by their traditional roles as housekeepers, keen to meet all the needs of their husband and children so that they are comfortable at all times. Women, they say, are alienated by the “rice power” held by their husbands. But things are changing because Cambodian women are increasingly providing incomes to their families and, at the same time, men are less and less filling their traditional duties as family leaders responsible for the family's needs. The interviewees promote education and waged work as a means of promoting Cambodian women.
But the discourses regarding sexuality are totally different. Asked about the sexuality of married couples, the answers show a feeling of powerlessness and fatalism. The women interviewed perceive male sexuality as being “naturally” demanding and out of control, contrary to that of women. Women are the real “pillars” of their households (as a proverb puts it) and therefore, their sexuality is shaped by “culture” and not by “nature”. Most husbands are perceived as unfaithful. But this is not of strong concern as long as they do not threaten the economic and reproductive stability of the married couple by wasting money in the financial support of a lover, or by contaminating their wives with HIV. On the contrary, Cambodian women are perceived as sweet, resigned and faithful. And these qualities guarantee the stability of their couple. Moreover, these qualities are perceived to be typically Khmer. Women are therefore the warrants of national identity.
The “cutting principle” invented by French anthropologist Bastide in his analysis of individuals' experience of drastic social change, perfectly suits the case of Cambodian educated urban women: they are trying to invent a new gendered identity which would be both “modern” and “Khmer”. But at the same time, they establish a clear-cut division between their full socio-economic integration into Cambodian society and their role as watchdogs of the stability of the family, and by extension of the culture and the nation.
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Contributor : Anne Yvonne Guillou <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 1:49:29 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, June 24, 2021 - 11:06:58 PM
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  • HAL Id : halshs-00140836, version 1



Anne Yvonne Guillou. Promotion de la femme et sexualité conjugale en temps de SIDA. : Le ‘principe de coupure' chez les Cambodgiennes instruites. M.E. BLANC, L. HUSSON et E. MICOLLIER. Sociétés asiatiques face au Sida, L'Harmattan, pp. 67-91, 2000. ⟨halshs-00140836⟩



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