Barriers to Embracing Feminism in Modern Society

Feminism is a very simple notion: that men and women are equal, and that our structure of society and the way that they are treated should reflect this. The majority of people would agree that this is a good idea, particularly in Western society, however despite this feminism has become despairingly difficult for the new generation to really identify with and embrace – particularly among men. In fact, the word often evokes negative associations which generates criticism and judgement towards both the ideology and the people who openly support it.

Why Is This?

Feminism is not a new thing. The desire for women to be treated as equals among men has been about for a very, very long time, brought into light most notably by the suffragette movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although equality has come on in leaps and bounds since then in a lot of places, the cold hard truth is that men and women are still not treated equally in any part of the world, and in some places female empowerment is even decreasing. (You can see the facts and figures in the Global Gender Gap Report.)

Everyone knows that changing the very foundations of patriarchal society is a very lengthy process, but for most feminists the progress is agonisingly slow. Besides this, feminism is continually contested by people all over the globe who patronise the ideology and dismiss the oppression of women in society, which makes people very angry (and quite rightly so). However, this unhappy mood has coloured feminism, and the result of this is often the association of feminism with anger and bitterness as opposed to liberation and peace.

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A Personal Approach

Feminism has become very personal. For men and women, feminism means freedom. It means being able to be one’s true identity with no restrictions from society. Feminism is the power of choice, and a lot of people use it as a medium to support their voice and their personal choices – which is not a bad thing.

However, when feminism mixes in with someone’s personal life, it can be tricky to distinguish the two from an outsider’s perspective. For example when someone uses it to explain their motives to do certain things, or their feelings towards certain things, their actions can be misconstrued as an act of feminism itself, rather than an act of theirs which is perhaps inspired by self-empowerment as well as other personal qualities.

The root of a lot of hatred towards feminism (and the concept of ‘anti-feminism’) is the assumption that these personal views are what feminism stands for, rather than what the person who is feminist stands for.

When one person shouts: “I hate all men, and by the way I am a feminist,”  people may read it and think that other feminists also hate men. And so that feminism stands for men-hating. This association between personal qualities in individuals and the qualities of feminism blurs the definition of the word, and can make it seem like an illogical or self-righteous escapade with no real merit. It is important to remember that an opinion voiced by one person is not necessarily shared by the community.

The Shock Tactic

Feminism often works on the confrontational approach: whereby when sexism is come across, it is challenged and shouted down. This can be very effective, especially if the person is gifted with good reasoning power, but in daily life it can be more intrusive than operative. For example, when talking to someone who is openly a feminist, other people in the group may feel (wrongly or not) uneasy or cautious in-case they say something out of turn with the other person’s feminist ideals.

This is built upon the assumptions that feminism is:

  • a complex idea with many pitfalls, and
  • that all feminists are inherently ‘picky’ and quick to judge.

This of course is not true. However, it is true that sexism is a complex, many-layered thing. This is why there are so many sexist incidences that occur in everyday life, and so what may seem commonplace to us will annoy a more observational person – such as not looking a woman in the eye during a business meeting or expecting a man to buy his date a drink.

For someone who identifies as being feminist themselves, being told they are acting in a way that is sexist can be very distressing. Being on guard in conversation does not make feminism an inviting community to be part of, and makes people associate the threat of external judgement as a cornerstone of the ideology.

An Unwelcoming Community

Because feminism is surrounded by controversy, people who are feminist are often questioned about it. The fact is, if you expose yourself as identifying as a feminist, you feel like you will be put under undue scrutiny by other people. And because so many articles and manifestos are written about feminism, the rules and expectations of what a feminist is can seem endless and incompressible.

This leads to you questioning whether you fit into the feminist community at all. What if you aren’t ready to defend your opinions to drunken strangers? What if you still want to shave your armpits? What if you still want to be a housewife, or be a masculine man? What if you love looking at boobs? Surely according to the rules of feminism that means you can never one of them!

Someone I met who obviously supports gender equality said she opposed to being called a feminist because she didn’t feel that she fit into the “feminist image”.  She was not prepared to discuss her views with people, and didn’t want to be associated with the brunt of bad press that feminists are given. Sadly this is a very real barrier to people embracing the identity of feminism.

Barriers to Male Feminists

Feminism is particularly perilous for men. Even though the blame for sexism, misogyny and patriarchy is rooted in society as a whole, men are sometimes individually treated as being guilty of sexism even if they themselves have not acted in this way. For example, the ridiculous notion that ‘all men are part of rape culture’ (a topic which deserves its own article).

In general, men are subject to more scrutiny than women in terms of potential sexist comments or behaviour. This can be very intimidating for a man, particularly for someone who identifies himself as being feminist. Even if this is avoided, men are further ostracized from feminism by things such as ‘women only’ feminist events and the generalisation of men as being sexist pigs who are unfeeling towards the suffering and oppression of women – a stereotype which is sexist and therefore very un-feminist.

Things to remember:

  • Feminism is a simple idea that men and women are equal (not the same) and should be treated equally, which the opportunity and right to make their own life choices.
  • There are no rules to being feminist, other than that you agree with the above.
  • You don’t have to tell people that you are a feminist if you don’t want to.
  • Self-identified feminists may not act in a feminist manner all of the time. This is because sexism is inherent in our society, and is therefore sometimes part our personality without realising it.
  • It can be more difficult for men to ‘come out’ as feminists due to the controversy surrounding the topic.
  • Both men and women are subject to stereotypes and generalisations which negatively affect both parties.

 

A Small Solution

No one person or group of people is to blame for the unwelcoming nature of feminism in today’s culture – it is just the product of a long-contested history of feminism which has struggled to survive throughout its lifetime.  The voices of feminism are strong and passionate, and should continue to be so.

What we can do individually is to take a more positive approach to equality in our daily lives. Embrace our identity. Be supportive and kind to each other at all times, and give each other room for error. (That means no judging on either side of the debate!) Above all, remember that men and women are equal, and act accordingly. (Don’t hug girls and dither at the guy in the group. Give him a squeeze!)

It is time to cheerfully and wholeheartedly accept gender equality as a fact, and work on making it a more welcoming world for all of us.

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Peace to the world and all that.

 

What Absolute Poverty Looks Like

Nath is an example of a woman living in absolute poverty in Banan District, Battambang Province, Cambodia. I met her after our team of VSO ICS volunteers conducted poverty surveys in the community where we lived, and she told us about her lifestyle. We thought that it was important to share her story so that other people could understand her situation.

Environment

This year there was a really bad storm in the area. Nath and her family had to shelter under some banana trees because they were scared that the house would fall on top of them. When the storm was over, their house was destroyed. Luckily, Nath’s brother was working away and has let them move into his house for now, which is comprised of one main room and several small storage rooms outside made from bamboo, palm leaves and thatch. However when he returns Nath and her family will have to move out and will have no-where to stay.

Nath and her husband have three children: a son (18 years) and two daughters (10 and 15 years). Having had bowel disease two years ago and breast cancer this year, Nath is too ill to work. Her husband has heart disease and is likewise too ill to do manual labour. Operations and health care are very expensive in Cambodia, even with a Poor ID card (which gives them a discount to health services) and Nath and her husband struggle to make ends meet. They have to forage in the nearby fields for food, and often go hungry. Nath’s daily challenge is asking to borrow money from her neighbours and family to in order to get by. The banks and microfinance companies won’t lend her money because of her situation, so she has to ask her family to borrow it for her under their name.

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Nath’s brother’s house and storage room

Support

Nath’s oldest son works at the popular tourist sight Phnom Sampov as a tour guide every evening after his studies in Battambang, contributing the family’s only income. Since English is so poorly taught in rural schools (see more information about education in Cambodia here) he picks it up from tourists he meets and tries to improve his language skills that way. He wishes to stay in his home town and look after his younger sisters – a rare ambition for youth in Cambodia, who often aspire to study and work abroad. Since buying school equipment is expensive, he was unable to afford it during some years of study and fell behind his peers in his level of education. This is often a struggle with poor children and teenagers in Cambodia, particularly girls, whose education is seen as less important than that of boys.

Four years ago, the village chief told the family about Anatta World Health and Education Outreach, a non-government organisation which supports children in developing countries. Anatta used to give Nath’s family a donation of rice every two months but have recently started a new scheme. When I asked Nath how important she felt education is for her children, she told me that Anatta had given her the option of a monthly cash donation, or to support one child’s education (e.g. buying books, stationary and school uniforms). She said she chose for them to support her eldest daughter in her education, because it is more important than money. Nath hopes that one day her daughters will go to University, get a good job, and be able to support their family with a better chance for their own futures.

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Plans for the Future

When Nath and her husband recover a little from their illnesses, they plan to improve their circumstances by going to work in Thailand. She will have to borrow money from her neighbours in order to pay for the travel. Nath cannot afford a passport or visa so she will have to travel and work illegally, by any means possible, with no guarantee that she will even find a job when she gets there or that she will be paid for any work that she does. There are far more risks working illegally, including being abused or not paid by employers, being imprisoned by the Thai government, and being victim of human trafficking. Her biggest fear is being found and sent to jail. She knows of people who have gone to Thailand to work – some have come back with money, some haven’t.

Nath can see no other option. The support given by NGOs such as Anatta may provide a vast amount of help – and hope – but unfortunately does not solve her problem. With no money to invest, no livelihood training available, and no means or knowledge of how to get a lawfully paid job, what other route can Nath take? This is the reality of people living in absolute poverty in Cambodia.

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Good luck to Nath and her family and we are hoping that they will be on the road to success soon!

Check out my blog about health in Cambodia and another NGO which works in Banan District, Cambodia.

Targeting Health Problems in Cambodia

Yesterday we had our last Community Action Day as part of the Banan team in Battambang Province, Cambodia working for Voluntary Service Overseas. We decided to theme our event on health after identifying this as a need in the community.

For our Community Action Day, we focused on three topics: diabetes, respiratory problems and general health, encompassing hygiene, dental health, diet and excersize. We chose these topics after asking the doctor in the local health center which were the most common health problems, and choosing which ones we could help reduce by teaching the community about their causes and prevention. We added the section about general health due to our own observations when living in rural Cambodia: for instance the condition of teeth, particularly in children.

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Soriya talking to a woman from our commune who also suffers from diabetes

Kov Soriya talked about diabetes during our event, since she was diagnosed with diabetes just after graduating from University (you can read about her story here). Diabetes has a high risk factor in Cambodia when considering that the majority of people are lean. A large contributor to this are the high levels of sugar in a normal Cambodian diet and a poor understanding of the health problems that eating sugar will lead to. Diabetes will often go unnoticed in its sufferers, although with increasing awareness and visits to health clinics diagnosis is improving, meaning more people are getting the advice and medicine that they need.

Respiratory problems, especially acute respiratory infections, are very common in Cambodia, and can be lethal due to the combination of poor nutrition and unhygienic conditions. This is particularly dangerous for children, since 1/3 of children in Cambodia are malnourished, which puts their immune system in jeopardy when they get an illness. There is very poor air and water quality, and a very high level of pollution which can also contribute towards infection and breathing problems. The local doctor of Phnom Sampov Heath Center addressed these issues during our event.

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Young children are the most vulnerable to infection and pneumonia

Knowledge about general health is very sparse in Cambodia. Most people, especially in poor areas, know very little about common health problems and their causes, meaning that active prevention of disease is rare. Some people are conscious of their health, for example wearing masks to protect themselves from dust, but are unaware of potentially more dangerous things that they are exposed to daily, such as burning rubbish and plastic. Healthcare is expensive in Cambodia, and although a “Poor ID Card” exists, this only gives the person a discount rather than free access to services due to corruption in hospitals. Especially in the rural areas, people are reluctant to visit the doctor and prefer to manage their illnesses in their homes, supported by their family.

During my time in Cambodia, my neighbour had a stroke and now is being cared for by his son. Neither can afford the cost of healthcare or medicine, and due to the time-consuming nature of care, the son’s business is suffering as a result. I met a family in absolute poverty with a myriad of health problems including heart disease, breast and bowel cancer, which made the mother and father unable to work. This meant that they had to borrow money from neighbours in order to pay for their children’s school equipment and forage for food everyday.

Health is a huge issue in Cambodia due to the regime of the Khmer Rouge, who persecuted and killed intelligent and educated people whilst in power, including health professionals. Therefore there is little healthcare infrastructure left in the country and few trained doctors and supporting staff, particularly in rural areas. Educated doctors and nurses are reluctant to live in isolated areas away from the main cities, and the people are equally reluctant to visit the doctor when they fall ill due to the costs of consultation and treatment.

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Raising awareness in Phnom Sampov

Raising awareness of general health is one step forward to improving people’s lives, but developing the infrastructure within healthcare and investing in the training of doctors and nurses is the only real way to solve this national issue.

Beauty Culture in Cambodia

As much as we would like to believe that beauty is subjective to each individual, how we perceive what is beautiful is very much dictated by our culture. What is deemed as beautiful is subject to trends of fashion throughout generations and cultures, leading people of similar backgrounds to value similar traits in themselves and people around them, and people of different backgrounds to be attracted to people of different body shapes, complexion, style, age, face shape, and even personality. It is not surprising therefore that Cambodian people have a standard of beauty which contrasts vividly with the UK.

In Cambodia it is fashionable for women to have a small, thin body. It is also seen as elegant to have hands which curve back, replicating the style of traditional Khmer dancers: children from a young age will stretch and bend their fingers every day in order to achieve this. Long fingernails are also traditionally a sign of being wealthy, particularly among men, because people who work on the land (and are generally quite poor) have to cut their fingernails for practicality due to their physical job. Often men in Cambodia will have long fingernails, or a single long nail on the little finger of each hand, although this fashion is losing popularity in the younger generations.

The most prominent difference however is that pale skin is highly prized in Cambodia, especially among women. Often young women will go through extensive measures to keep their skin from tanning, such as wearing lots of layers – even hats, scarves and gloves – in 40° heat. Whitening products are also hugely popular, to the extent that it can be difficult to find non-whitening shower creams and moisturisers in shops. These products are very harmful to the body. The lotions can contain corticosteroids, and molecules such as hydroquinone (which are carcinogenic) or even mercury salts which are highly toxic. Every year women die from using these products, often when using them in excess in order to look more ‘beautiful’.

The fashion of pale skin is consolidated through the media. On television, every celebrity (male and female, although women are visibly lighter) has extremely pale skin, and even in televised competitions involving people from the public, such as The Voice Cambodia, the contestants are rarely more than a shade or two darker. In advertisements, and even paintings, illustrations and wedding photographs, everyone is depicted with white skin. A contributing factor to this may be because Cambodia idealises Korean culture, admiring their literature, television programmes, music scene, and fashion, including the Korean complexion. The prevalence of pale skin in popular images including the media strengthens the idea that to be pale is fashionable, and that the colour of your skin can dictate how successful you become.

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Setting an example: talking about these topics should begin with the youngest generations

Dangerous and simply quite strange practises in order to look more beautiful prevail in every culture however. In the UK, we have our own beauty extremes which includes the culture of tanning. It is attractive to have bronze skin in Britain because a tan proves that someone has spent their leisure time in the sun, indicating that they are well-travelled, i.e.rich and world-wise.  Women especially will use tanning booths and go sunbathing, despite that the exposure to UV rays increases the risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer.

We value tall, slim, athletic bodies with hairless, unblemished skin in both men and women, and due to this every year we spend hundreds to thousands of pounds on products and services that will help us to achieve this ideal. For example we buy skin care products like moisturisers and spot creams, hair removal products, make-up, braces and teeth whitening services, as well membership to gyms, excersize classes and sports equipment, slimming “medicine”, dieting group membership and speciality foods. All of this is supported by the media which enforces the idea that to indulge in these beauty regimes is both fashionable and normal.

In Cambodia, women who do not comply within the normal beauty standards, for example if they have dark skin or acne or are tall or have a big body, will find it very difficult to find a partner. Both men and women can be ridiculed and bullied for having dark skin, so it is not surprising that people are very conscious of their appearance. In general, when people feel they do not fit into the cultural norms for ‘beautiful’ this causes problems with self-esteem, causing a higher risk of eating disorders, anxiety and depression across cultures. It can even lead to isolation from social circles and social stigma.

The importance we place globally upon being beautiful, particularly for women, is detrimental to our physical and mental health. The more we obsess about improving our faces and bodies, the less content we are with them. Individually, we must reconsider our own standards of beauty with the understanding that it is just a trend in fashion, not a universal or real measurement of value. We should endeavour not to judge other people around us for how they look or how much effort they put into their appearance, be content with how we look ourselves, and give our health and happiness a much higher priority.

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Learn to love yourself using any means necessary

Meat Production and Climate Change

Although it is not widely known, meat consumption is the leading contributor towards climate change, affecting the planet’s water supply, land use, and atmosphere in very negative ways.

Water

Many people around the world don’t have access to clean water, however, an extraordinary amount of water is used in meat production in both feeding the animals themselves and the food they need to live. From 13’000 to 15’000 litres of water is used to produce just 1 kilo of beef, as opposed to 1’000 – 3’000 litres for one kilo of rice. Meat production uses significantly more water than the amount needed to irrigate crops which could feed many more people. In this way, it has a massive impact upon the world’s water supply.

Land

Across the world, a whopping 1/3 of ice-free land is used to rear livestock, which is 45% of all landmass on the planet. Besides this, more land is taken up by growing crops for the animals to eat. Animal agriculture is the main cause of habitat destruction, species extinction, deforestation and ocean dead zones. A dead zone is where an imbalance in temperature, pH or chemical composition – for instance from pesticides and chemicals – causes the local ecosystem to cease to function. Animal agriculture has caused 190 dead zones in the ocean so far. Besides this, 91% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest occurs due to clearing land for livestock and growing crops.

Atmosphere

Farmed animals also produce greenhouse gases, which are trapped within the earth’s atmosphere and heat up the planet. In fact animal agriculture produces 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the emissions from all means of transportation combined. Cows in particular produce methane, a gas extremely harmful to the environment and 86 times more destructive than carbon dioxide in the span of 20 years. The reason why cows produced for meat consumption cause so much damage is because the food they are fed is often a lot different to their natural diet in order for the farmers to save money. Soy beans, for example, are inexpensive to feed cattle but are difficult for the cows to digest – therefore the cows pass a lot more wind than wild cattle do. Ironically, the soy beans grown to feed the cows could feed many more people than meat from the cows could!

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Cattle roaming in rural Cambodia

Action

Meat production is a very serious threat to our planet, especially since the industry has boomed in recent years, and people are eating more meat than ever before. There is simply not enough room on our planet for the amount of meat we demand with our expanding population.

It saves a lot of land and water, and cuts down considerably on the production of greenhouse gases, to feed people with vegetables. In fact to feed one vegan person for a year, it only takes 1/6 of an acre of land. To feed a vegetarian it takes ½ of an acre, whereas to feed a meat eater it takes 3 full acres. Vegans also cause 50% less CO2 emissions, use 1/11th less oil, 1/13th less water and 1/18th less land than a meat lover (based upon the impacts of farming vegetables etc. rather than livestock).

I do not think that everyone should be vegan or vegetarian, since eating meat is very much ingrained into our culture – and is delicious! – however, if everyone on this planet makes a conscious effort to cut down on how much meat they eat, we can make a significant impact upon climate change. By having meat a few times a week instead of everyday, or by having smaller portions of it, every person can contribute towards lessening the damage of animal agriculture upon the land, the water supply and the atmosphere.

If you’d like to know more about this topic, there is a documentary on the subject called Cowspiracy, and the Vegan Society have some recipes and more facts about the benefits of cutting down on meat. You can also read my blogs about conservation in Cambodia in: A Glance at Endangered Species in Britain and Cambodia and Bats and Rice. Thank you fellow volunteers Bex, Kate and Khem for sharing this information with me as part of their Active Citizenship Day.

The Reality of HIV in Cambodia

HIV is a global crisis, affecting 3.96 million people worldwide. The human immunodeficiency virus is passed between humans through body fluids, most commonly transmitted through unprotected vaginal and anal sex, although also by sharing needles, blood transfusions, and between mother and child during pregnancy and breast feeding. Once the virus is inside the body, it gradually attacks the immune system until, 10 – 15 years later, the immune system is damaged beyond repair, leading to poor recovery from illness and substiquently death. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, a person who is HIV positive can lead a normal, full life.

The prevalence of HIV in Cambodia is extremely high – one of the highest in Asia – due to the limited healthcare and knowledge about health and diseases in general. In 2015, there was a massive outbreak of HIV due to a shortage of medical supplies, meaning that syringes were re-used by unlicensed doctors. The people most vulnerable to catching the disease however remain to be drug users, prostitutes and homosexual people.

People diagnosed with HIV face stigma and isolation in their community. Often, they will be avoided or even cast out by their friends and family, and their relationships, businesses, income and mental health will suffer hugely because of this. This is due to a lack of knowledge about the disease and how contagious it is. People believe that touching, kissing or breathing the same air as the sufferer can give them HIV, even though the virus is only found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids and breast milk, not sweat, saliva or urine.

Through simple instruction and education, the attitude towards HIV can be changed for the better. Real life cases of doctors in Cambodia teaching people about HIV have shown that understanding can lead to inclusion of the patient within the community, and a conscious effort from the community to support the person and help them to lead a full and happy life.

In Battambang city, the book Around Battambang by Ray Zepp has recently been published. The profit made by selling the book goes towards nuns and monks raising awareness about HIV, and helping to support orphans of HIV. In Anchor Night Market, Siem Riep, and Phnom Penh, there is a shop called  Nyemo selling textile products, arts and crafts with all the proceeds going towards HIV prevention and supporting vulnerable women.

An informed society is a healthier and happier society, and this is why it is extremely important to share knowledge to help the prevention of treatable diseases such as HIV and their accompanying social stigmas. There are many charities that fight the HIV epidemic such as AVERT , The International HIV and AIDS Alliancee and the Terrence Higgins Trust, where anyone can get involved through fundraising and raising awareness.

Thank you to Lwiza, Sony, Avex and Chantel for sharing this information with me in their Active Citezanship Day as part of their placement with VSO. See my interview with Kov Soriya about her experiences of having diabetes in Cambodia.

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Soriya’s Story: Battling Diabetes in Cambodia

Kov Soriya is one of the 2.3% of Cambodians who suffer from diabetes. Diabetes is a silent killer, since in the majority of Cambodians it remains undiagnosed, and is particularly high despite most sufferers being lean (not overweight) when compared to other countries. Soriya shared with me her experiences of having diabetes in a country with limited healthcare and knowledge about health and diseases.

Is diabetes a big issue in Cambodia?

I don’t know how widespread diabetes is in Cambodia, but my doctor told me that the rate of people diagnosed with diabetes rose by 50% between 2000 and 2006. This is mainly because a while ago people were tentative to go to health clinics, and didn’t think about their health that much, but now more people are conscious about their health and check up on it more, and have more faith in hospitals.

The main problem is that people who have diabetes have to travel to Phnom Penh [the capital] to see diabetics specialists: in the provinces they have no access to doctors or insulin.

The Cambodian diet is quite high in sugar, for instance in cooking and popular drinks, which leads to a higher risk of diabetes. How informed do you think people are about the disease?

There is very little understanding and knowledge about diabetes in Cambodia. People just know that it is extremely bad for them: they always say that diabetes is the “rich man’s disease” because, due to the system of healthcare being very difficult to access, it is extremely expensive to treat.

The first time I saw the doctor, the nurse was asking me very crazy questions like “are you married”, “do you have children” which in Cambodian culture it is not appropriate, so I was annoyed and said no I don’t. She then told me that I shouldn’t expect to have any children or a husband in the future now that I have diabetes. And this is the attitude of most people in Cambodia: they think that when you are diagnosed with diabetes, that there is nothing more for you to live for.

Luckily I talked to my doctor, and he explained to me about how to manage my diet and my medicine, and after following his advice I felt a little hope for my future.

What was your thought process when you discovered that you had diabetes?

For two months I cried and avoided people, because when the people I knew found out I had diabetes they told me that my life had finished, and started to ignore me. I thought that I would lose everything in my life, and that everything I had worked towards had fallen apart. I lost weight. Twice I almost killed myself because I thought that there was nothing to live for anymore.

What was your biggest fear at that point?

My biggest fear was about the expense. I had just graduated from university, I didn’t have a job and I came from a very poor and remote area. There was no means to pay for my healthcare, and because of this, I worried that I would not have a long life.

How did your family react?

My family were very supportive during this time. My dad said, “daughter you don’t have to think about that. My life is for you and I will give you everything until I have nothing more, and I will not let you go. If I let you go then I will have to go first”. And he hugged me and reassured me. His words really touched my heart and he and my mother gave me the motivation to battle diabetes.

What were the challenges you had to overcome since having diabetes?

Before I worked for VSO, I worked in the jungle in a conservation organisation. Because there were no fridges or ice available in the rural areas, storing insulin in the right conditions was extremely difficult, and I had to throw a lot of my insulin away because of this. My health got worse as I couldn’t take my medicine, and had little time to rest and no control over my diet. Eventually, I had to resign from my favourite job, so I could move somewhere where I would have better access to healthcare.

Have you met people with the same disease?

Yes I have. My friend’s parents have diabetes and she told me where I can access the doctor and medicine. My friend who lives in Australia also has a 5 year old son who has diabetes, and she sent me some information about how to monitor my diet, but because of the free treatment in Australia he is quite a bit luckier than me and it is not such a bad problem.

If you had the chance to talk to someone who discovered they had diabetes, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to follow the doctor’s advice, which has given me such a good result on my health. Monitor your food and cook your own meals. Also, find out which type of diabetes you have: type one or two, because your medicine with depend on this – but don’t rely on the tablets or insulin, you’ve got to watch your diet and exercise too. If you do it properly, you could have better health than a non-diabetic person!

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Kov Soriya fresh from her interview

Soriya’s story highlights how important it is for people to understand about health. Misinformation can not only lead to poor physical health, but also can have serious consequences for your mental health too. Raising awareness of diabetes in Cambodia and elsewhere can improve the lives of people after being diagnosed with the disease, and can prevent people from getting it in the first place.

To understand more about diabetes you can look on the NHS website or the Cambodian Diabetes Association for symptoms, prevention advice, and treatments available.