This paper attempts to describe how the cultural customs and practices related to menstruation have changed among Khmer women in contemporary rural Cambodia and examine the theory behind this phenomenon. It explores both the continuity and discontinuity of cultural norms, beliefs and material culture after the long-term civil war.
Menstruation is both a biological phenomenon and a socio-cultural phenomenon, and is considered taboo in Khmer society. These days it has become part of the global agenda within international development policy and a trigger confrontation between aid workers and local people. Menstruation is a culturally sensitive topic, therefore outsider's interventions without realizing the local reality will cause inter-cultural conflict and social distortion. However, studies about menstruation focused on local women's experiences in Cambodia are limited because of its cultural position that menstruation is kept “silent” in the society. This article explores the many different ways in which this topic is discussed in Khmer culture through in-depth interviews with girls, their mothers, grandmothers, teachers, local market vendors, aid workers, and government officers.
These results show that with globalization, modernization, and the growing importance of school education and paid work, the traditional ceremony of the first menstrual period is decreasing and the meanings of a “good life of women” are changing. Besides these changes, because of a huge expansion in trade, the dissemination of sanitary napkins among local people expands the sphere of women's action and lengthens the time spent outside of their house. Because of currently increasing globalized development interventions, it is crucial that we are familiar with existing cultural and social views and attitudes toward menstruation.