Bernadin Sang is the Business Development Manager of the Tiger Water Solutions. Prior to this role, Bernadin has worked with public and nonprofit sectors in Cambodia on water, sanitation, and hygiene. She started her career as a teacher. Currently, Bernadin is an active member of the Women in WASH Network.
[Below is the interview translation which is edited for clarity.]
Q: When did you start working on water and sanitation?
Bernadin: I don’t have a plan to work in this sector. I met a former representative of WaterAid in 2018, talking about gender issues in the WASH sector. I was interested in the problems. I participated in many meetings concerning water and sanitation. Then, I became a core member of women in the WASH network. This is how I started working in the sector. I have worked in the field for about four years.
Q: Why did you work in this field?
Bernadin: I asked myself what I don’t enjoy doing it. I wanted to quit my job to take care of my family. After quitting, I asked myself why I did it. Staying at home was not what I wanted. I wanted to work and meet people. Then, I returned to work. I started working with my company because of my network. This is how I started with my company.
Q: Why do you want to quit your job?
Bernadin: Workplace is not always heaven. I faced challenges at the workplace. I always thought to myself that I could stay at home because my economic situation could accommodate me. My children are young. If I stay at home, I can help my children with their studies. My husband lives in the province; thus, I am responsible for taking care of my children and home. I was stress when I was tired from the workplace and needed to take care of children. I thought about quitting my job to take care of my children so that I could relax. I don’t want to exhaust myself that much anymore.
In the last 10 or 20 years, I worked hard to earn money for my family. That situation (financial burden) is over. So, I thought I should stay at home. But, I could not stay at home. When I stayed at home for about 1 or 2 months, I lost myself. I felt that I was far away from others.
Q: You raised about challenges. As a woman, what challenges do you face to hold a leadership position?
Bernadin: There are two challenges, including internal and external challenges. I don’t have a professional background in water and sanitation. Sometimes, I could not explain issues in the WASH sector to others because I have limited knowledge of the industry. Moreover, I am a sympathetic person. People take advantage of me sometimes.
As a woman, I have responsibilities as a mother. I indeed have a housekeeper to help me. But she cannot help me to take care of my two sons. Around these two years, it is challenging for working mothers because of COVID-19. Women take care of their children. My sons are around 7 or 8 years old. They need me to assist them with school; otherwise, we pay tuition fees for nothing. I help my sons with their school during the day and nighttime. It is too burdensome for me. And my husband lives in the province; he cannot help me.
Moreover, I remember one sentence that “women must work harder than men to be acknowledged. If women achieve lower or at the same level as men, no one cheer for what women do. Other people will ignore women.” It happens to me as well. If I want to be acknowledged, I must work harder and achieve more than others. Otherwise, no one cares about you. They just ignore you.
Q: How does taking care of your children while working from the home challenge you?
Bernadin: It is challenging for time management. Sometimes, they [children] visited me while I was in the meeting. Sometimes, they played with their IPAD while I was in the meeting. We have a schedule for them to use IPAD during the weekend. It is challenging for me to manage my time to work and take care of my sons.
Sometimes, I complained to my husband. I told him that he had time to meet friends after work, but I didn’t. I spend time with my sons after work. I bring them to exercise or do homework. Men have more time to build networks than women because they have fewer responsibilities [household responsibilities] than women. My husband and I are working, but my husband has more time to build networks than me.
Q: How do you overcome the challenges that you mentioned earlier?
Bernadin: I am a straightforward person. I don’t take things personally. When I face an issue at the workplace or home, I will talk about it. Even I disagree with my supervisor; I suggest my idea to him. I speak out because I want him [supervisor] to know. So, I don’t stay silent.
I will give you an example. I experience verbal harassment at the workplace. Many women experience that. Many people still normalize it. My co-workers think it is a joke. I am working on gender. When I hear a joke [guy’s talk], I do not participate in that. I speak out about this issue. I told my co-workers that I don’t enjoy their jokes; don’t talk about it while I am here. Sometimes, they listen, and sometimes they don’t. I can’t ask them to follow me. At least, I voice my concern.
I am also fortunate to have mentors. I go to my mentors when I face problems. They are friends, teachers, or previous supervisors. When I talk to them, they give me the idea to reflect on myself. Sometimes, the problem happened because of me, not by others. They told me to accept my mistakes as well.
When I am alone, I ask myself what I have done to create this problem. I can reflect on myself when asking this question. Then, I can find the answer to that. For instance, I have not spoken out about the issue, nor have I done this.
I build a network with other people. I can meet more people. When I have more networks, I have more supporters. Networking facilitates my work.
Q: You mentioned harassment at the workplace earlier. Why did it happen? Have you and your co-workers talked about it?
Bernadin: At the workplace, we don’t have physical harassment. We have verbal harassment such as guy’s talk. For me, the guy’s talk is harassment. When I talked about verbal harassment at the workplace, my co-workers said they talked properly, but I translated their talk in a different way. Sometimes, these people talked with their peers, but I could hear it because I was there. This is what I mean by harassment.
What I can do is that I talk to my supervisor about that. I don’t participate in the talk. I don’t laugh at their talk. I want to show them that I don’t enjoy it.
Q: What motivates you to overcome the challenges you mentioned earlier?
Bernadin: I don’t want to stay at home. I would take only care of my children if I quit my job. This is the most significant factor that motivates me to work. I persevere. If others say it is impossible, I will work harder to make it possible. I will contact my network and seek support from other people. If we have people to encourage us, we can do a lot of things. Friends, family, and former supervisors always inspire me. People around me trust me more than I trust myself. They tell me to take the challenge. If I face a problem, they tell me where to find the resource to address the issue. When we have people to encourage us, we can overcome challenges. If we have specific goals, we will find our way.
Q: You have worked in the field for about four years. How do you see women’s participation in the WASH sector?
Bernadin: I have worked with more than 200 business owners in the water field. About 10 % or 15% are women who got the license to operate their business. Some of them have the license because their husbands register for them. However, men [husband] manage the business even though women register as business owners.
The water sector is challenging [for women] because mostly it is related to technical skills. People thought that it was a men’s job. Women may face difficulty fixing the pipe water. Women primarily perform admin or finance tasks.
Q: What do you want to see more in the WASH in Cambodia?
Bernadin: I want to see more women in all sectors. More women participate in some WASH events does not represent the hold picture. Some people count the only number of women, but not their voices. For instance, 20 women cannot argue with one man in the room. These 20 women go to listen to one man. I do not want to see that.
I want to see that women can voice their concerns regardless of their number in the room. I want to see that others consider women’s voices. Some organizations said they apply gender because women make up about 20% or 30% of their staff. But there is no woman holding leadership positions. When discussing gender, we want to see women at the management level, and their voices heard.
Q: Do you have any messages for women and girls?
Bernadin: Women must be brave to speak up. Bravery means speaking out with reasons. Women must build their capacity both soft and hard skills. Some people have strong technical skills but lack communication skills. Even though you are firm with your technical skills, it will be challenging if you don’t have good networking skills. If we have more networks, we have more options.
This interview is part of the HerRoles Campaign, co-organized by the WaterAid Cambodia and Next Women Generation. HerRoles Campaign aims to raise awareness of public on women’s roles and leadership in the WASH sector in Cambodia.