“Before, customers would ask girls working here to go and have sex with them. I would tell the girl to stay safely at the back while I told the customers that they could not do this,” Saingheng explains. “This restaurant is not somewhere for customers to seek sex. It is a family business.”
In an effort to prevent his workers from unwanted advances, Saingheng joined the Non-Violent Workplace Initiative, a Ministry-led initiative which CARE supports.
This provided him with materials to display stating the laws and consequences for assaulting his workers. “Now that I display posters with information about harassment and phone numbers for reporting this, customers know that there will be consequences if they harass workers here,” he says.
Saingheng says that only a small percentage of customers are unhappy with his protection of female staff and that it does not bother him if they choose to eat elsewhere. “I don’t want customers who are going to harass my workers … Women who work for me know what sexual harassment is and they know that I will not accept this happening in my restaurant.”
In fact, his efforts have also gained him more respect from some of his clientele. “Customers have told me they are very happy I have posters saying violence against women is not acceptable here,” says Saingheng. “They support me in stopping harassment.” To continue sharing this message, Saingheng allowed beer promoters from CARE’s local partner to hold an event at his restaurant to mark the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. On a busy Friday night they displayed an eye-catching banner with the words “Sexual Harassment Stops Here!” and shared information with diners.
The event encouraged people to shift the blame for harassment away from women by listening without judgment, showing support if women have been harassed and encouraging reporting to the relevant authorities. Saingheng thinks these are three valuable yet practical actions to help change attitudes. “It is important to listen to my staff. This is the first and best way to show women respect.”
Saingheng’s mother is pleased with the steps her son has taken to improve his business. “I did not like it when men harassed the women working in the restaurant,” she says. “I was very happy when my son started changing this and I am proud of him for what he has done.” She is perhaps the inspiration for Saingheng, who says, “When we disrespect any woman, we disrespect our family and all women in Cambodia.” Saingheng is committed to continuing his efforts and he is proud to pose with a sign saying “Sexual Harassment Stops Here!” Harassment is a thing of the past in his restaurant. He hopes that someday this will be true for all of Cambodia.
Originally published December 22, 2015.