Cambodia has experienced rapid economic development and increased globalization in the last two decades, which have influenced changes in sexual attitudes and politics. Yet deeply embedded patriarchal structures that promote adherence to traditional values, gender binaries, and sexual purity of women impede progress in the recognition of the rights of sex/entertainment workers and LGBT communities. Using the framework of sexual humanitarianism, this paper outlines the ways in which these constraints are compounded by two dominant conflicting narratives that place these groups as either at-risk and vulnerable or socially deviant, and deemed in need of interventions that protect and control. Drawing on over a decade of empirical research on the sex/entertainment industries, and broader gender/sexual landscape in Cambodia, as well as current social activism of the authors, this paper also describes the ways LGBT and sex worker communities are engaging in shared organizing and self-advocacy as strategies to address their needs and the consequences left in the wake of sexual humanitarian interventions. In order to contextualize their deeply-rooted legacy in Cambodia, the paper also provides an overview of past and contemporary gender/sexual norms and diversity, and concludes with a call for governments and policymakers to expand support for grassroots movements and to listen more closely to the voices of LGBT and sex worker communities so that the political and social needs of these groups can be addressed.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited