Cambodian Women Are Posting Photos Wearing ‘Sexy’ Clothing to Protest Proposed Law That Would Police Women’s Outfits

Cambodia is considering draft legislation that would ban women from wearing clothing deemed “too short” or “too see-through.”
August 7, 2020, 11:21am
cambodia women
Cambodian women hold Valentine's day flowers as they ride on a scooter along a street in Phnom Penh on February 14, 2009. AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Women in Cambodia have taken to social media to protest a proposed law that would police women’s clothing in the name of keeping “public order.”

According to Reuters, the draft legislation called the “Law on Public Order” would regulate men's and women’s dress, banning women from wearing clothing deemed “too short” or “too see-through.” According to the outlet, the law would take effect next year if approved by Cambodia’s legislature. 

“It’s good to wear something no shorter than the middle of the thighs,” Cambodian interior ministry secretary Ouk Kimlek told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last week when discussing the draft.

The proposed bill would also ban men from going out in public shirtless and would also moderate how much noise people can make.

Kimlek and other supporters of the bill insist that these measures are necessary for maintaining social order and “preserving national dignity.” 

“It’s not entirely a matter of public order, it’s a matter of tradition and custom,” Kimlek said.  

But the conservative legislation has sparked backlash in Cambodia, particularly among women, who have started posting photos of themselves wearing clothing that would be deemed inappropriate under the new law alongside the hashtag #mybodymychoice in Khmer. 

According to Reuters, some women also posted photos of themselves in swimwear.

Tan Molika, a recent high school graduate, started an online petition calling for the draft legislation to officially be withdrawn. As of Friday, August 7, the petition had garnered over 14,000 signatures. 

Molika told VICE News that she originally created the petition to spread awareness, though she has received numerous requests to submit the petition to the Cambodian government.

“With the traditional Cambodian society being so close-minded and conservative, seeing everyone stand up now for what they believe in makes me so happy,” Molika said.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told Reuters last week that the new law indicates a growing movement to stifle women’s freedoms in Cambodia. 

"In recent months, we've seen the policing of women's bodies and clothing from the highest levels of government, belittling women's rights to bodily autonomy and self-expression, and placing blame on women for violence committed against them," she told the outlet.

Present-day social norms can be seen as a legacy of the centuries-old Khmer code of conduct for women called the Chbab Srey. The literature was taught in Cambodian schools until 2007. 

Chbab Srey teaches women to talk and speak softly, obey their husbands and maintain boundaries between the outside world and the home in order to live a more virtuous life.

In April, a Cambodian woman named Ven Rachna was sentenced to six months in prison on pornography charges because she wore clothing deemed inappropriate during her Facebook live streams.

Prior to the woman’s arrest, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told authorities to track down women who dressed too “sexy” while selling items online, US-government owned Voice of America News reported.

Ming Yu Hah, deputy director of Amnesty International in the Asia Pacific region, said the legislation amounted to victim-blaming. 

“Reprimanding women for their clothing choices serves to reinforce the notion that women are to blame for the sexual violence they suffer, and thereby further entrenches the culture of impunity which exists in relation to gender-based violence,” she told Reuters.

Some Cambodian rights activists, including Eng Chandy, a program manager at Gender and Development for Cambodia, say that criticism of the new law serves to enhance dialogue about gender equality in the region.

“It is rare for a draft law to be shared like this, giving us the chance to discuss it as a society,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.