By Amrin Pisey,
In Cambodian culture, talking about sexual health is still considered taboo. What I’ve experienced so far is that when women tend to talk about their sexual health publicly, they would be accused of ruining Cambodian culture or not being considered a true Khmer woman. Even at school, a place for education, sexual health isn’t openly discussed in the classroom if male students are present.
This is because Khmer women were told that talking about sexual health is dirty and improper. Most women tend to be shy and afraid that they would be labeled as a disgrace to Cambodian values and beliefs. Above all, most Khmer youth think that they shouldn’t know about sexual health until they get married even if they’re suffering from a serious sexual health issue. That’s the reason why many Cambodian women, especially in rural areas, seem to lack general knowledge regarding sexual health, including reproductive health, sexual transmitted diseases and the use of contraceptives among other issues. As a result, sexual health still remains a challenge in Cambodia.
Problems of sexual and reproductive health in Cambodia
According to UNFPA Cambodia, despite the fact that some parts of sexual health have improved so far, there are still many challenges faced by Cambodian youth. For example, during 2005 to 2014, the percentage of Cambodian men using condoms decreased from 31% to 18%. Moreover, less than 50% of Cambodian youth, especially women, have a proper understanding about sexual transmitted diseases such HIV/AIDS, while the issue of teen pregnancy and early childbearing is also still an issue.
Another major health risk for women are unsafe abortion practices, especially for female workers in the garment factories. According to a survey by Partnering to Save lives, 90% of female garment workers don’t know that abortion is legal, while 70% of women who have carried out an abortion don’t know where to find the safe abortion services.
Sexual health is an important part of the human well-being. So, it’s important that the knowledge of sexual health should be openly taught to both men and women in Cambodia. By knowing about sexual health, a girl can be prepared for her marriage life and childbearing, as well as help prevent her from facing other risks such as teen pregnancy, unsafe abortion and other diseases. On top of that, knowing or discussing about sexual health doesn’t destroy Cambodian value, tradition or culture, as it’s not against our constitutional law. And it also doesn’t make anyone a fake Khmer woman. We are living in the 21st century. People should be more open-minded and accept the fact that discussing sexual health isn’t taboo or goes against Cambodian culture. We as woman, have the right to discuss this issue for the sake of every woman’s better health.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.