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Cambodia: Female Voices in the Blogosphere

“Through observation and research findings, women are more likely to post their personal issues, so to say, while men tend to talk about politics or technology in their blog which sometimes, if i have to say, catches attention from the mainstream media,” said a Cambodian commentator, named Lyda whose thesis is related to gender and blogging, commenting on a post entitled “Digital Democracy Emerging in Cambodia.”

Yet, her remark is not surprisingly new as this has been raised by other writers who tackled the gender question on blogging:

“[…] Why men are more likely than women to write about news and politics is a question that existed long before the dawn of the Web […],” reported by Lisa Guernsey, journalist of the New York Times who maintains a blog herself as well.

There are some who highlight the cultural link of the gender issue while others blame mainstream media which puts too much attention on the male group of bloggers.

21 year-old female blogger, Kounila Keo, now senior student of Media and Communication at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and who began blogging in the late 2006 with emphasis on Cambodian lifestyle and social politics, posits that the above view is witnessed in a male dominated world.

“Usually, men are seen as strong and superior and their words usually touch on politics or technology while women are seen as soft and inferior so to talk about politics or technology will put them in a weird ‘tomboy’ situation,” said Kounila.

Kounila also shares a similar observation that the gender gap in blogging is due to the traditional gender roles. However, she adds the blame to the lack of political and institutional role of women in Cambodian society:

“I think traditional gender roles have been a force that keeps men doing the same thing: write about political matters and women, their personal life. Of course, a lot of women I have known like posting their personal issues because it is much easier. I see this as a lack of encouragement in political involvement from educational institutions.”

Recently, Kounila observes that there is an increasing number of women who blog about social issues and politics.

“Cambodia might not now be a place where the majority of women blog about politics or technology as yet; however, I strongly hope that in the years to come, more women are educated and there, we will see political content on blog mushrooming.”

While Kounila firmly believes that women can be empowered by blogging and using technologies, Sidaroth Kong, 27 year-old female blogger who have actively worked for more than 7 years with NGO sectors mainly promoting ICT projects for social development and gender mainstream, believes that women themselves are the agents of change.

“Empowerment doesn't come automatically, you need a good plan and a good strategy to do so. If women keep conservative ideas and surrounded by strict culture and mindset, blogging will still be hard to be used as a tool to empower them. Empowerment and impact of empowerment rely on willingness to change, shift of mindset and appropriate use of technology with specific strategy and goal,” said Sidaroth.

These two active female bloghers shared a similar belief that the high internet cost plays a role in limiting people to blog. They also note that a favorable environment that will benefit bloggers is lacking in the country. Kounila asserts that the gender role still plays a critical role in obstructing women participation in blogging:

“In Cambodia, we still have a higher internet cost, and voicing concerns over politics or anything in general is just considered as a funny or deceitful act by men who take women for granted. Traditional gender roles are still quite prevalent in Cambodian society while women, I believe, have to be strong and vocal to break all the barriers.

Sidaroth, on the other hand, emphasizes the need to adopt a favorable political environment for bloggers in general:

“I think there is one main challenge that worries others and myself for blogging: how safe is the protection of the social environment for our blogging. We do not dare to blog any critical issues against government because of our concern about our safety or law suits that allow individuals to charge bloggers with defamation suits. Therefore, the social sphere of a country does pose less or more challenges for one to really blog freely or not”

Asked about what they want to see more on the net and if blogging can change Cambodian society, Sidaroth insists to have more people blogging with higher standard of reliable and objective information. Also she hopes that more hidden stories will be revealed through blogs.

Kounila, on the other hand, wishes to see more variety of content produced by not just men but also women. She stresses that women should be encouraged and given opportunities to talk about politics, social matters and whatever comes into their minds. She also believes that blogging helps her to communicate within herself, so that she can know who she is inside and it provides this chance besides a social tool to boost freedom of expression.

Notably, these two vocal bloghers have written a post appealing for more blog discussions on politics and active public participation in elections. Konila posted an interesting article on “Politics You View in this World” which is a must-read. Solidaroth urges her readers to use their right to vote in last year's National Election, in her post on My 1st time to Vote-27 July 2008. This apparently indicates that blogging has been used as an advocacy tool for political discussion, especially from the view of female bloggers.

*The two female bloggers were interviewed via email.

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