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On Facebook, a Potential Venue for Women’s Rights

People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, file photo.
People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, file photo.

When police arrested real estate tycoon Sok Bun earlier this month, it seemed to be in response to an outcry on social media, which showed closed-circuit footage of him beating a famous TV actress at a restaurant in the capital. It was a rare arrest, but notable for the public outcry stirred by shares of the video on Facebook.

Social media could be a boon to Cambodian women, but these are early days, and many still don’t use online resources to their full advantage.

Still, Keo Kounila, a Cambodian blogger, recently told VOA Khmer that Facebook has emerged as a new space for women’s rights in the country.

“I think Facebook is a tool to urge women to speak up about whatever topic, and it allows women to show their ideas, as well as to find opportunities to work and obtain knowledge,” she said. “It does empower women in Cambodia, if they know how to take chances, and I think it is a good start.”

Keo Kounila has used Facebook to build her personal brand and promote her blogging, as well as to look for growth opportunities, she said. “When I post something useful and good, people will keep coming to me, and those are opportunities I earn from Facebook.”

Cambodian women, in general, can use it to communicate, access information, find opportunities and do business. Many, of course, use it for fun.

“To me, Facebook is an absolute entertainment place,” said Tha Manit, a 15-year-old student at the English Language Teaching Institute.

Koch Sinalin, a 10th-grader at Sisowat High School, said she uses Facebook for entertainment, too. “I use Facebook primarily for contacting my friends, chit-chatting with them for fun or my lessons,” she said. “I have no idea about the empowerment of women’s rights through Facebook.”

There are downsides to Facebook’s use: pornography, inappropriate videos, or even harassment. And there are questions of privacy that can be overlooked. “I do not know about the privacy setting and their effects,” Tha Manit said. “I also never think about it.”

In the end, Facebook is like any tool; its utility is up to its user.

“Facebook can give people advantages and disadvantages depending on the way they use it,” Keo Kounila said. “Some users keep on posting their photos and videos without understanding the privacy settings on Facebook, which will bring them bad consequences.”

Those questions are only going to get more pointed, as more and more people go online and find social media. A 2015 report by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications says more than 5 million Cambodians have access to the Internet. Geeksincambodia, a local website, says there are 1.42 million active users, with 38 percent of them female.

More and more tools, meanwhile, are becoming available. In July, Deutsche Welle Akademie, a media development organization, provided a weeklong training for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, helping them analyze social media, post on Facebook, and shoot videos for online viewing.

The ministry has yet to take full advantage of social media, Phon Puth Borey, a media officer at the ministry said. “We have no mechanism to empower women’s rights via Facebook yet.”