Changed perceptions about road construction work enable Cambodian women like Khoun Sophorn to earn money without having to work far from home.
The third of four siblings, Khoun Sophorn lives in Cambodia's Kampong Speu province with her parents, who work in the rice fields. Sophorn has always had to help take care of her family. She cares for her aging parents, provides $80 each month for food, and also supports her younger sister's study.
Previously, Sophorn worked in a garments factory far from home as she thought this was the best way to earn money. However, moving away caused many difficulties for her and her family. She could not help her parents with housework. She was often sick and her wages were not enough to cover both medical treatment and food. Sophorn eventually decided to resign and return home.
Job opportunities, however, are limited in rural areas. And like many women in her village, Sophorn believed that of the few jobs that were available some were not open to them. When contractors sought workers to develop a road near Sophorn's village, she did not think of applying at first.
"I did not want to work on the road. I observed that only men worked on the road construction," she says. "Moreover, I was worried about my safety, about being harassed."
However, Sophorn's involvement in the ADB-financed Rural Road Improvement Project helped change her views and opened her eyes to jobs opportunities that she had not considered before. Aside from construction, the project also included a community-based road maintenance program. Sophorn was able to work for the project as a truck monitor, road measurer, and road maintainer.
"I was very happy because the salary I earned allowed me to support my family. At the same time, I was able to work near my house and I can work outside in the fresh air."
ADB contracted CARE, a humanitarian organization that places special focus on women, to work in some of the areas close to the road project to ensure that women are given equal access to jobs offered under the project.
"I was very happy because the salary I earned allowed me to support my family," says Sophorn. "At the same time, I was able to work near my house and I can work outside in the fresh air." She plans to save enough money to buy pigs and raise these at home.
The knowledge she gained from working for the road construction and maintenance project has had a positive impact on Sophorn's outlook. "This job made me feel proud of myself. It made me realize what other jobs I could do. It may be a bit hot working under the sun, but working on the road project was not as hard as my factory job. Before, I always thought that hard, serious work was men's work, but now I know that I can do any job close to home."