Sotheary YIM is an accomplished psychologist, psychotherapist, and peacebuilder, based in Cambodia. Sotheary is the co-author of Understanding Trauma in Cambodia, a guiding book on trauma in Cambodia. She published the book titled Past and the Present of Forced Marriage Survivors: Experience toward Healing, which reflected her 15 years of experience working with survivors of forced marriage, trauma, and transitional justice.
[Below is the interview’s transcription which is edited for clarity]
Q: Welcome to Next Women Generation. Today I have Sotheary Yim, who is a peacebuilder and psychologist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have seen your activity on social media. You have been doing a lot of stuff. What are you currently occupied?
Sotheary: I am working on a lot of things and clinical work. I’m a psychotherapist. I also work with my clients. I also work a lot on self-care these days. On top of taking care of myself, I’m making a guideline for peacebuilding workers.
Q: I have seen some of your work on social media recently. You have been working to promote women through gender equality and empower young women. What motivated you to work in this area?
Sotheary: Because I believe they needed to grow, they needed to push through the wall and social norms. I can say that. I do not only work with women; I also work with men. But I don’t have many male clients. I don’t have male clients come to me. I don’t think men don’t have a problem. But they don’t speak out. I hope they’ll go out and speak out to their peers and other male psychologists. I want to have more strong girls coming out and speaking by themselves in shorts.
Q: Thank you, you are a mother of two adorable boys. How do you raise your sons to respect women and to treat them as equals?
Sotheary: It’s very hard. I say challenging because parenting these days involves many things, including the society that my kids are living with. That’s mean my home and their father’s home, the community of their cousin and grandparents. Another big one is school. I teach my boys to be feminist, treat women, respect women, and do housework. For example, I teach them to treat housework as a life skill. I teach them to clean, and I teach them that every color is neutrals. It’s not created for boys or girls. I discipline them. I teach them not to watch a video but to read more.
Sometimes, when they get home from school, they told me that, mommy, this is very girlish; this is only for girls. This is the struggling of modern parenting in Cambodia these days.
Q: It sounds so challenging. So how do you manage all of this?
Sotheary: It’s very tough. To be honest, sometimes, I can’t control; I can’t always be calm. But for me, I say no to violence; I never beat them. I sometimes have an emotional breakdown, as well. I put it in a way that happens in society, and I accept it. The first thing that I do is to accept that we live in a society that in this society which allows this to happens. I accept it and keep working on it. I need to be patients explain them.
I show them that women also can do what men can do. For example, I am a single mother, and I can do multitasks. I can go out and work in different places as a consultant. I can earn income independently. I can cook, I can do housework. Like the boys, they also can do the housework. This is a role model for them. I am teaching by doing.
Q: So now, I like to ask about your childhood. How did you become a feminist?
Sotheary: I was raised traditionally as a Cambodian daughter. Like many others, people around us tell us that being a girl cannot talk loudly or must walk properly. The kitchen is your home. You don’t play games, especially games, thought to be for boys. You do this in days and don’t do this at night.
I was a feminist, but I never know I never realized I’m a feminist. The word feminist comes into mind when I read, and I work in the field. It was about ten years or less than the last ten years.
Q: The term feminist is still controversial. How do you position yourself when you interact with society with a community with your co-workers?
Sotheary: I agree with you. It is heard. One example that that’s lingering in my heart and emotions is that when I was still in marriage, my ex-husband’s colleagues often said to him or tease him, some time in front of me and some time behind me, saying how’s life having a feminist wife? They asked my husband that is a lot of pressure or you don’t have enough freedom? This happened to me.
Q: It is interesting. Why did those men make this type of joke?
Sotheary: They don’t appreciate it. They did not appreciate a feminist like me or like you or like others. They think that a feminist is just somebody who just talked ‘Bla Bla Bla,’ lazy to do housework, and want to win men. But for me, as a feminist, I think women never want to win men. We stand for equal treatment.
It is also because I am different. Back to around year 60 years ago, there were not many people understanding this word. There were not many people who value this. We had different views. We are one or two in society. Unfortunately, people perceive, take, or give a meaning of difference as a problem. For example, if I dressed differently today, I dressed in red and the rest dressed in white among my other ten friends or colleagues. But people take it as you crazy or you stupid because of how you dress.
People should appreciate the difference that it brings beauty in. Unfortunately, society and people these days still do not value differences.
Q: So, thank you so much for sharing this with me. Do you have any messages for young girls who want to promote women’s rights and gender equality in Cambodia who fear being judged by others?
Sotheary: Dear young women and men, I would love to share with you that I understand your struggle, especially the struggle to change and for change. Change always happens slowly. But just let’s hope together. And I love to team up with all of you to work with you to mentor you to support you through the journey of change.
Q: Thank you very much for joining me today. Thank you very much for listening to the Next Women Generation. If you like this conversation, please subscribe, leave us a review and stay tuned to our next speaker.