Srey is the Cambodian girl – and in the book Srey – Tales of Urban Girlhood we get to meet her, in many shapes, living amongst the garbage in the shadows of Phnom Penh. The theme of the book, which is to be released in January 2017 on Dokument Press, is the importance of empathetic meetings – from dumpsites to boardrooms – and how it gives insights about sustainability, business and responsibility.
What has Srey to do with sustainability?
By listening to Srey, corporate leaders can learn about one of our times most important skills: empathy. It is the skill that makes leaders equipped to make good decisions in a rapidly changing world.
There is a lack of knowledge today on how we can connect interpersonal knowledge from the outer rims of the value chain – to the boardrooms. That is the gap that Sreyaims to illustrate, and it is what makes Srey most relevant for the leaders of businesses.
How did you come in contact with the interviewed girls?
We came in contact with the children and the young women in the book trough long-term dialog work for other clients in the region, a work that started back in 2009. This work gave us the opportunity to find robust networks through local and international organizations in the area, which made us feel safe in carrying through the dialogs in a safe, just and respectful way.
You write in the book that you have interviewed at least twice as many as depicted in the book – how did you make the selection?
A lot of the people we interviewed lives in very vulnerable situations, which made us make individual assessments on which story’s we should and can portray in the book. The safety of the children was on our mind when we made the selection, and we have only included those who had a robust network and support system in place in Cambodia. Everyone who shared their story has contributed with very valuable information to Srey, even those not shown with their name and picture in the book.
Why just girls? Aren’t boys just as exposed as girls on dumpsites?
The gender power order between men and women exists both locally and globally. It creates different dimensions of insecurity and vulnerability. It’s not that one is worse than the other, but there is a difference and it is a specific situation to be a girl in an urban disaster zone.
You say ”Srey – the Cambodian girl – contradicts the Western fantasy of the Asian doll. She challenges the feminist assumption that there is a female subject that requires representation in politics and business.” Do you mean that Srey doesn’t have a need to be represented?
Srey needs representation, but not as a single group. The goal is to get past target groups and segmentation and instead see and understand stakeholder groups. Then we can face them and meet them with empathy and understand Srey beyond a flat categorization.
The girls portrayed on the pictures look so passive and expressionless – why?
The pictures portraying Srey has an expression not made for us, not to make us feel anything special. They are not set up for us to look at. We have made a conscious choice to have these kinds of pictures. We also chose to work with an incredibly talented photographer who has his own strong artistic expression. Sotarn always uses the same method, style and tonality – when he takes pictures of artists in his regular work in Stockholm as when he took the pictures of Srey.
Isn’t it problematic that you as writers on the top of the consumption pyramid, through this book will capitalize on Srey’s stories when they get nothing out of it? Isn’t this just another way of using them?
The book is available in the existing system on the same terms as all other books. That enables us as writers to have access to even more resources than those whose stories we tell, which makes our responsibility to them even bigger. We have been working actively to act fair and just in the interactions with Srey, and we are grateful that we can take responsibility of our place in the system by trying to influence and affect, by encountering and understanding those people who spend their lives in the outer rims of the value chain.