Som Pov is a 24 year old woman from Kampot who has been a garment worker in Phnom Penh for 6 years. She is from a poor family of 6 children. Her parents earn a modest income from her mother selling Khmer cakes and her father being a labourer. Som Pov left school at 14 as her family could no longer afford to send her to school. Although she has a dream to go to University, her lack of education has limited her job opportunities. In order to help support her poor family, at only 16 years old she had little choice but to leave her home and become a garment worker in Phnom Penh.
The working conditions in the factory were very poor and she faced considerable hardships. Som Pov worked in fear of physical abuse as she was hit if she made any mistakes. She was forced to work 14 hour days as she was told she would lose her job if she did not work overtime. When her parents found out about her working conditions they got a friend to help her move to a different factory. The conditions in the new factory are an improvement but she still faces many hardships such as low wages and poor living conditions.
In 2012 she joined the Workers’ Information Center- Drop in Centre (WIC-DIC) and in 2013 she volunteered to take on the role of being an active worker. This position entails organizing various activities from lessons on labour rights to educational games. Through the drop in centre she has learnt about her rights and achieved a sense of empowerment. This has enabled her to challenge her superiors in the factory when they do not recognize her rights. Som Pov has also made many friends and learnt conversational English. Another useful skill she has learnt through her involvement with the drop in centre is how to calculate her wage. This meant on salary day she was able to help her friends to calculate their wage, which made her very happy.
In order to try and improve the conditions of garment workers in Phnom Penh Som Pov has also joined large-scale campaigns such as Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly (CGPA), the Workers’ Forum and participated in International Women’s Day along with WIC and the United Sisterhood Alliance (Us) in 2012-2014. When her parents found out that she was actively involved in this social and political environment, they were very worried about her safety and asked her to come back home. After she returned to her village she worked as a wedding singer for 2 months. She did not enjoy this as it was very noisy and involved a lot of traveling. Motivated by the goal of achieving greater respect for worker rights through her involvement with WIC, Som Pov convinced her parents to let her return to Phnom Penh. Presently, she continues to work as a garment worker and is proud to play an important leadership role as the Key Organiser of WIC at the Drop in Centre in Pou Sen Chey area
Her message to other workers is: Wake up! “do not live like a frog in a well” it is important to learn your rights! She also encourages workers to not be afraid to advocate for their rights, as this is the only way to improve working conditions and achieve a better quality of life.