Bernadin Sang shares how to overcome challenges as a female leader in the WASH sector

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.

Bernadin started engaging in the field in 2018 after participating in a workshop on women’s leadership in the WASH sector. The workshop has inspired her to participate in the sector and take a leadership role. Bernadin is an active member of the Women in WASH Network.

What Motivates Bernadin to Work in WASH Sector

Working in the WASH sector is not Bernadim’s dream. However, she had the opportunity to engage in the industry after quitting a job for a few months. Bernadin said that she returned to work because she didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mother. “I wanted to quit my job a few times to take care of my family,” she says. “After staying at home for a few months, I realized staying at home to take care of family and children was not what I wanted,” she adds.

Bernadin said that she lost herself and her network after staying at home for one or two months. “My society is a society that I can meet people and talk about business. It is not only sharing perspectives with husband and children,” she says. After return to work, Bernadin had the opportunity to hold a leadership position in a private company supplying clean water. She said that her network had brought her this job opportunity.

Unpaid Care Work During COVID-19

Unpaid care work is a challenge for Bernadin as a working mother. Taking a new role requires Bernadin’s time and effort, while her children need her school support during COVID-19. In addition, Bernadin shares a roof with two sons and a housekeeper, while her husband lives in another province. As a result, childcare responsibility falls under Bernadin’s shoulders. “When I have a lot to do at work and need to take care of my children at home, I was so stressed,” she says. “I am in the condition that I can’t give up my job to take care of my children,” she adds.

Bernadin shares that her family’s financial condition can accommodate her to quit a job, yet staying at home is not her choice. “If I quit my job to take care of my children, it would not affect my family financial condition,” she says. Bernadin also noted that she worked hard in the past 10 or 20 years to support her family. Yet, she shares again and again that she doesn’t want to be a stay-at-home mother.

In Cambodia, men have more time than women to network and patriciate in social events because of less responsibility for unpaid care work and domestic chores. Bernadin used to discuss with her husband about gender roles in the family. “We both are working, but you have more time to meet friends after work. I need to take care of our two sons after work,” she tells her husband.  

Harassment at the workplace and how to deal with it

At the workplace, Bernadin has encountered verbal harassment, which is normalized by her co-workers. Bernadin, a gender equality advocate, says that she doesn’t feel comfortable when her co-workers make jokes such as guy’s talk. She observes that verbal harassment happens to many women in the workplace.

Bernadin empresses her inconvenience via boy courting or dismissing talks related to harassment. She has discussed with male colleagues the harassment yet was told that she interpreted the discussions in her way. “I told him. If he didn’t listen to me, it’s his issue,” she says. “I can’t dictate him, but I can voice my concern,” she adds.

Bernadin shares that encouragement from friends and her surroundings help her to overcome challenges at work, including harassment. She always seeks advice from friends, teachers, and formers supervisors. Sharing her experience and concerns with these people enables her to reflect on herself and her work.

Women’s Capacity and Voice are Limited in the WASH Sector

Patriarchy makes it difficult for women to hold leadership positions. Working in the field for many years with different sectors, Bernadin heard that women must be higher achievers than men to have leadership positions. “If a woman wants to be acknowledged by others, they must outperform men. If she achieves less than or equal to men, no one acknowledges her, and sometimes she is rejected by others,” she says.

Bernadin observes that fewer women participate in the sector than men. She says that women made up about 10% to 15% of nearly 200 business owners she’s worked within the clean water field. Bernadin also shares that some female, registered businesses were managed by men or husbands.

Bernadin wants to see women’s voices are considered and placed in the policy, plan, and program. She has seen women’s voices were not taken into account when making decisions throughout her professional career. “Sometimes, women raise their voices, but their boss [men] make the decision,” she says. She also raises that women need to strengthen their soft and technical skills. Finally, she adds that women need to build their network because networking brings women more choices.

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