Chea* works in one of Phnom Penh’s many garment factories. Women like Chea work long, hard days stitching clothes. She might have even made the clothes you’re wearing right now.
Like many millions of women across Asia, Chea decided to work in a garment factory because of the promise of a regular income. She shares her earnings with her family back in the village where she grew up.
But 21-year-old Chea faced regular abuse at the factory which made her dread going to work.
“The men at the factory would stare at me and tell me that I was old enough ‘to be eaten’… Walking the small distance from my sewing machine to the toilet used to be very uncomfortable.”
Chea felt angry, but she and her colleagues had no confidence that anything would change if they reported the abuse.
In fact, they were scared that complaining might create more trouble, and they were worried about losing the income that their families rely upon.
women worldwide will be abused in their lifetimes.
When CARE International got involved, Chea started to see a difference. CARE International worked with the factory’s managers to make sure training and a sexual harassment policy were put in place. A sexual harassment committee was created along with clear complaint and investigation processes to make sure that when the policy was broken, complaints were taken seriously.
“Now things have changed a lot,” Chea says. “We have a sexual harassment campaign in the factory, and a workplace policy that lets everyone know that sexual harassment is not acceptable, and if people report it, it will be taken seriously.”
This has directly improved Chea’s working life. “I can take breaks without feeling nervous. I feel safe and happy.”
Around the world, 1 in 3 women will be abused in their lifetimes and yet the legal definitions of harassment and violence are still grey. Women are fighting for safety, opportunity and a say in their futures. CARE has been advocating alongside women for the rights of domestic workers in Ecuador to factory workers in Cambodia. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) efforts to adopt comprehensive legal protections for women at work is an important and necessary next step toward real change for women not just in the US, but in Asia, Latin America, Africa and all around the world.
Chea’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Story originally published December 22, 2015.