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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women making mark in work force, but progress still slow

Women making mark in work force, but progress still slow

Channda Sok enters the conference room in a smart pinstriped blouse. After having introduced herself politely, the vice president talks about the Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA): “We help our members to exchange [views] about daily challenges.”

The first grievance comes from CWEA member Lykuong Eng, the owner and manager of the Mastercare Dental Clinic: “A woman has to work twice as hard as a man,” she says, adding that women often have to take care of the family as well. To compound the responsibility, women are also increasingly likely to be in charge of the household budget, according to Laurent Notin from Indochina Research.

“That’s why most women prefer to work in the office rather than travelling or doing heavy physical work,” CWEA Sok says.

The Cambodian National Council for Women developed a strategic plan to protect and promote the status, role, welfare and benefits of women. In 2013 it will prepare a national report on Women’s Economic Empowerment for the United Nations.

The action plan  of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, based on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, provides unemployed and underemployed women with training for jobs that will meet the demands of the market. It will also promote women-led small and midsized enterprises and improve livelihoods of women in rural communities.

Meanwhile, this year, UN Women will “promote rural women entrepreneurs in Kampong Chhnang and Battambang provinces”, Va Ros, co-ordinator of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program, told the Post yesterday. Focus will be on the improvement of the bamboo handicraft sector in Kampong Chhnang.

However, World Bank economists said in June 2012 that women’s economic progress in Cambodia has been slower than in many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Cambodian women earn $0.75 to every dollar their male counterparts make, Andrew Mason, lead author of the report, said, and for every 100 men in secondary education in the Kingdom, there are only 85 women doing so as well.

However, Sok is optimistic: “The number of women in leadership positions rose, because the policy encouraged them to open their business. While men prefer the start in a company, the majority of women want to run their own business,” she said.

“They are very active in the retail sector, often self-employed and running a small permanent shop,” Notin of Indochina Research said. In July 2012, her organisation, which surveyed 1,100 people in five provinces across the country, found that 75 per cent of the women work on their “own account”, while only 63 per cent of men can claim to be their own boss.

Still, large-scale enterprises have few women in managerial positions, the study said. Ninety-one per cent of the general directors, for instance, are male.  

However, as more and more women graduate from a university and enter the job market, the opportunities to prove themselves will expand.

“Increasing numbers of women are entering the work force and experiencing both financial independence and an improved sense of self-esteem,” according to Notin.

Cambodian women in the work force are keen to point out the differences in management style.

“A woman’s leadership style is more peaceful and democratic. I delegate tasks to my team and empower them to work independently,” Acleda Bank Vice President So Phonnary, who began at the bank in an entry-level position, told the Post.

“Above all, business women need to have a clear objective, study more than men and exercise their team leading skills.”

“Most male employees are more ambitious in pursuing their career,” said Sok, who is also MekongNet’s chairwoman.

“In contrast, female employees usually take their time but also are more careful and pay attention to details.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Thust at



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