When your PM orders you not to look sexy on Fb, it’s dangerous
The PM of Cambodia, Hun Sen, has said women wearing provocative clothing on Facebook contributes to violence against and sexual abuse. Here's why this is dangerous.
Brace yourselves. Another privileged man has decided he gets to dictate what women wear. Except this time, the man is the Prime Minister of Cambodia, and people are taking him seriously.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has triggered a crackdown on women who are seen wearing provocative clothing on Facebook. He made a statement saying low cut tops are an affront to Cambodian culture, and has asked the police to track down Facebook vendors who wear these tops to market their wares better.
There has been a recent trend in the conservative country, of vendors who sell clothes and beauty products wearing low cut blouses on Facebook live stream.
“Go to their places and order them to stop live-streaming until they change to proper clothes,” the prime minister told the government’s Cambodian National Council for Women on Monday.
“This is a violation of our culture and tradition,” he said, adding that such behaviour contributed to sexual abuse and violence against women.
Here’s the scariest part:
As a result, the national police posted a video to Facebook on Wednesday, in which a Cambodian woman makes a public apology for sullying the “tradition and honour of Cambodian women” by wearing “extremely short and sexy clothes” in her online sales pitches.
The police said that had been “brought” to Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork police station for “education”, where she signed an agreement to stop wearing “revealing” clothing on Facebook.
Amnesty International has responded, saying his comments, and this crusade, are “despicable and dangerous”.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Regional Director, said:
“Hun Sen’s assertion that women are to blame for sexual violence and human trafficking due to their choice of dress on Facebook is a despicable and dangerous instance of victim-blaming. This rhetoric only serves to perpetuate violence against women and stigmatise survivors of gender-based violence.”
What does such a statement from a country’s top authority signify? Why does this matter?
What we’re seeing here is the coerced application of one man’s morality upon an entire nation. What is the honour of Cambodian women? Why is Hun Sen the defender of it? How does he get to decide what violates this arbitrary common morality? How is he equipped to ‘educate’ women about it?
What is even more terrifying is this - the police are rounding up women, but these women aren’t actually charged with breaking any law. Instead, rather than relying on a legitimate legal framework, the police are simply acting on the words of a leader.
Amnesty also noted, “These developments underscore the dire state of freedom of expression in Cambodia. In recent years, the Cambodian authorities have increasingly weaponised internet surveillance to target human rights defenders and opposition supporters based on their Facebook posts and communications.”
Freedom of Expression in Cambodia:
Human Rights Watch has reported, “Respect for human rights in Cambodia deteriorated in 2019, following national elections the previous year in which Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) secured all 125 National Assembly seats”.
This was achieved with the help of the CPP-controlled Supreme Court, which dissolved the main opposition party, creating what is effectively, rule by a single party.
The year began with Hun Sen announcing a “fake news” law on January 11, 2019. The law imposed restrictions on freedom of expression by the media, expanded surveillance against civil society groups and political opposition, and intimidated the general public.
Journalists in Cambodia have been arrested in 2019 on fabricated espionage charges and everyone’s social media networks are heavily surveyed.
A 2018 decree titled “Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet” also allows for interference with online media and government censorship. 2019 also saw the introduction of a series of repressive laws, including amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations, the Law on Trade Unions and the penal code. All of these severely restrict rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association in the country.
Overall, the country has not fared well on the global stage of human rights compliance.
When a man holding such unfettered power, with a demonstrated disdain for human rights, makes such obviously chauvinistic and discriminatory comments, there is a clear threat to the well-being of women in the nation.