Reconfigurations of Femininity and Masculinity in and through the National Childcare Policy in Cambodia
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2021 Sambath My
This dissertation critically interrogates the link between the National Childcare Policy in Cambodia, Khmer cultural discourse on care, and young women’s and men’s lived experiences of childcare practices. Situated in the emergent scholarship on care policies in developing countries, this research probes beyond the existing analytical focus on women’s burden of care work. The key contribution of this thesis is the articulation of a new feminist framework for transformative care, which consists of three tools: methodological, evaluative, and conceptual. The methodological tool—critical approaches to childcare policies—scrutinises the cultural and policy contexts of care policies and the assumptions underlying proposed policy representations, while interrogating policy silence on alternative representations. It also analyses the policy consequences of the allocation of care between different actors in the ‘care diamond’ (the state, the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the family), and between genders within the family. The evaluative tool of this new feminist framework—the transformative ethics of care—assesses care policies against core ethical criteria: recognition, reduction, redistribution, representation, solidarity between social groups, and women’s autonomy. These criteria determine whether care policies are ‘ethically transformative’ or not, so they are crucial in relation to the moral imperative that requires genuine listening to the voices of family carers and/or women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, directly or through their representation. Seriously taking these voices into account when designing care policies can lead to the redistribution of care labour and costs from the private sphere to the public arena to enhance both solidarity between social groups and women’s autonomy at the family level. To analyse the distribution of care labour within the family, this new feminist framework deploys two conceptual tools: ‘social care’ and ‘caring masculinities’. The concept of ‘social care’ enables this research to capture women’s lived experiences and practices of childcare and to analyse cultural discourses on childcare. Further, it draws our attention to the role of the state in either weakening or reinforcing such cultural discourses. The concept of ‘caring masculinities’ permits this thesis to examine the extent to which, and how, men have engaged in ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ care alongside their breadwinning role. I define ‘caring masculinities’ along a continuum that encompasses ‘less-caring’ and ‘more-caring’ practices at each extreme, both shaped by men’s conceptions of their intersecting identities as fathers and husbands. The data analysed in this dissertation are from policy texts and from people’s perspectives and/or experiences drawn from in-depth interviews with 104 respondents at the national, preschool, and family levels who have been engaged in and/or affected by the policy. The research data also draws on non-participant observations. The interviews and observations, which were used to understand gendered caring practices, were triangulated with the textual analysis. By applying a new feminist framework for transformative care, this research argues that some Khmer women and men are adopting ‘reflexive reconfigurations’ of care practices, although others are strongly shaped by the interplay between Khmer cultural discourse on care in the Chbab Srey and the Chbab Pros and the state’s role in reconstructing such a discourse through its education textbooks and policies on childcare. By ‘reflexive reconfigurations’ I mean women are renegotiating Khmer cultural discourse on childcare by encouraging their husbands to engage more in care work, with men responding to their spouses’ constant negotiations by adopting ‘more-caring practices’. This suggests the possibility of transforming the gendered division of care labour within the family.
KeywordsCare Policies; Care Work; Early Childhood Care and Education; Gender Relations; Women as Reflective Subjects; Feminisation of Familial Care; Caring Masculinities; Hegemonic Masculinity; Reconfigurations of Caring Practices; Khmer Culture; Khmer Men; Khmer Women
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