Information Minister Called Out for Sexist Facebook Post

3 min read
Minister Khieu Kanharith at a ceremony where he received a “lifetime achievement award” this week. (Khieu Kanharith’s Facebook page)

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is facing criticism for a Facebook post objectifying women, with the minister saying the posts were innocent and allegations of sexism are being projected onto the post.

Kanharith is a prolific Facebook user, often posting on a verified account about news, meetings he attends and inspirational quotes, as well as memes and images accompanied with a comment from him.

On Tuesday, he posted a photo at a traffic stop, with motorcycles lined up behind the pedestrian crossing. The headlights of the car shine on a woman passenger on a motorcycle, revealing an outline of her underwear. 

“Now Phnom Penh residents obey the traffic law better than before,” he posted along with the photo.

The post has received a wide array of reactions, from people enjoying the minister’s “joke,” to making fun of the woman’s backside or simply just liking the photo — the photo had more than 16,000 likes and 2,500 shares as of Friday. 

However, a number of Facebook users criticized the minister’s post, calling out his “objectification” of the woman, for using her to make jokes and alleging this constituted sexual harassment.

“I do not know if he has read the comments in his post and reflected back on that? This is not the first time he receives negative reactions from what he posts, but he seems careless,” posted VOA reporter Kann Vicheika.

“A high ranked minister who objectifies women,” said another Facebook user. “Doesn’t matter if it’s in the form of [a] joke. The intention is the same and it shows.”

Kanharith was quick to deny the allegations and instead said people’s interpretation of the photo was based on their perspective.

‘’Psychologically, seeing a picture reveals a person’s personality. There are three things in this picture,” he said. 

“Those who love order will see motorcyclists stop before the pedestrian crossings. Those who oppose alcohol will see beer advertising banners. And those who are obsessed with sex will focus on a woman’s backside,” he said in a message on Facebook Messenger.

He said he had not shown the woman’s face and was using the photo only for entertainment purposes. 

The minister has posted photos which are either heavy on sexual innuendo or objectifying women, often eliciting comments from his followers and officials. 

In the photo of the woman on the motorcycle, Chea Chanboribo, another ministry official, comments that it took a good camera to “capture this picture well.”

In a different post with photos of Kanharith visiting a car showroom, Phos Sovann, ministry spokesperson, comments that the women pictured in the photos weren’t as beautiful as the cars.

After being interviewed by VOD, Kanharith posted his comments on Facebook, getting even more admiration from some of his social media followers.

Bunn Rachana, director at feminist group Klahaan, said it was clear that his post from Wednesday was not about obeying traffic laws because some of the motorists weren’t wearing helmets in the photo. At least four people can be seen without helmets in the photo.

It was disappointing that the minister would routinely post content objectifying women, she said, and it was not surprising to see these comments were the norm in Cambodian discourse.

“I am not surprised to see that because it shows Cambodian social norms in which men tend to objectify and disrespect women. And the comments in the post can attest to this clearly,” she said.

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