The Impact of the Pandemic on a Single Mother in Cambodia

Mrs.Sovann Vary currently works as a domestic worker at day time and tuk tuk driver at night.

At 38, Vary hasn’t had an easy life. Economic hardships, losses, and constant challenges are part of her daily life. She started to work as a domestic worker when she was 22 years old. Since then she worked for different employers. Due to the nature of her work, Vary rarely had a stable and secure job, jobs would come and go leaving her many times in vulnerable situations. When her daughter was 2 years old, she divorced her husband and decided to raise her daughter on her own, although that meant more economic insecurity and financial difficulties. Since then, her ex-husband hasn’t provided any support and it has been completely absent from her daughter’s life, now 7 years old. At the same time, sadly, her mother passed away and a few years later her father followed. With no relatives around and without peer support, in 2018 Vary registered as a member of IDEA’s domestic workers’ group. 

Before Covid-19, she had a relatively stable job. She worked 5 days per week, 8 hours per day as a domestic worker for a foreign family. She used to earn 150$ per month. Covid-19, however, has made her job very instable. Due to fear of catching the disease, her employer asked her to work limited hours, so her salary dropped by 50%, earning approximately 75-80$ per month. Having to care for her daughter, paying daily expenses and monthly rent, Vary decided to take up on another job. After her daily job, she became a tuk-tuk driver at night from 6pm to 11pm. She took a 5,000$ loan from a micro-finance institution and bought a tuk-tuk. The loan is costing her 200$ per month, which is a big amount, however she feels that this is the only option she had at that time. Being a member of IDEA have her confidence in pursuing this new job. She feels supported and comfortable to ask for support from IDEA when she needs it. She received training on how to use the communication device (I-Com), and to communicate with her local leader and other members.

As a single mother, Mrs. Sovann has to take her 8-year-old daughter with her in tuk tuk since no one takes care of little kid at home. Photo: Oxfam

As a female Tuk-tuk driver, Vary is challenging the stereotypes of the Cambodian culture, where the transportation sector is male-dominated and it’s still difficult to accept women as taxi or tuk tuk drivers. It hasn’t been easy for her. Every day she faces long stares from costumers, uncomfortable questions and insults from other drivers, like “why don’t you choose another job”, “it’s night time, why don’t you go home?”, “why don’t you let you husband work as a tuk-tuk driver?”, etc. In a society where women are still made to feel ashamed when they do something that could be perceived as outside of their roles, Vary is not giving up. Due to Covid-19, her income is not great, but she manages to earn between 3-5$ per day. 

As a single mother and without the support from her family, Vary has had many challenges in combining her job with the childcare responsibilities. Before Covid-19, she dropped her daughter at school, but since then, all the schools have closed so sometimes she takes her with her while she works.

Vary is still waiting for to receive the National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) cards. She knows that without any safety nets and social protection, Vary and her daughter are very vulnerable. In the future, she dreams to provide a good education for her daughter so that she could have better life opportunities. She is committed to keep her job in the transportation sector and continue her support to IDEA.

The story written by Visal Tan ,Social Protection Program Coordinator

Photos by: Oxfam 


Thanks to financial support from DGD of Belgium, Oxfam and it partners including: CCAWDU, CCFC, CFSWF, IDEA, and YRDP are implementing the project Inclusive and Equitable Social Protection for Marginalised Informal Workers in ASEAN 2017-2021 to increase, workers’ economic and social resilience, in particular women, by influencing the relevant decision makers to expand, finance and deliver social protection more effectively and equitably.