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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women slow to climb Cambodia's market

Women slow to climb Cambodia's market


Hem Sothy, a 48-year-old shop owner, speaks to the Post yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Women's economic roles in Cambodia have made slower progress than in many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, World Bank economists said yesterday.

The region as a whole has seen tremendous gains in the way of gender equality during the past 20 years, but increasing wages and education for women should be a policy priority for Cambodia, according to the economists and a World Bank report issued yesterday.

The report identified gender equality as a contributor to higher productivity and income growth.

It also pointed to foreign direct investment into garment manufacturing as a driver for women’s employment, although the stability of that work was susceptible to external shock should demand for Cambodia’s largest gross domestic product generator decline.

Cambodian women earn US$0.75 to every dollar their male counterparts make, World Bank economist and lead author of the report Andrew Mason said yesterday during a web conference from Bangkok.

For every 100 men in secondary education in the Kingdom, 85 women attended class.

“She needs support – from agencies, ministries, organisations, from anywhere,” Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association president Seng Takakneary said yesterday of her countrywomen.

“The woman is under the man here. This is a cultural and social aspect of Cambodia.”

Women’s attendance in secondary and higher education in neighbouring Thailand was significantly higher than men’s.

Although not comparable to men’s wages, women’s earnings in Thailand were higher than in Cambodia.

An influx of FDI has changed the female-employment landscape in Cambodia and many other export-reliant economies. In fact, Cambodia has the highest percentage of women in export-oriented firms in the region: more than 60 per cent compared to about 54 per cent in China and 42 per cent in Thailaind.

Cambodia’s garment sector, which exported about $3.3 billion last year, employs about 500,000 people.

Up to 95 per cent of garment makers are women, Mona Tep, executive director of the Cambodia Skills Development Center, said yesterday.

At training centres that train employees for mid-management positions, women dominate the classroom.

“The new trend is transferring knowledge to the workers. Those training for supervisor [positions] are more than 80 per cent women,” Mona Tep said, adding that garment factory employment was more stable than the work in the rice fields from which many women came.

Volatility in global markets, including the demand for garments, made factory employment somewhat unstable, the World Bank’s Mason said.

“This was seen very clearly during the economic crisis in 2009. An external-demand shock was felt throughout the region and this impacted women’s employment,” he said.

Female entrepreneurs outnumber their male counterparts in Cambodia, according to the Economic Census of Cambodia, issued in March by the National Institute of Statistics.

The census showed that 61 per cent of the country’s businesses were run by women, although 80 per cent of Cambodia’s businesses were one-to-two person operations.

Hem Sothy, a 48-year-old shop owner in Phnom Penh’s Cham Karmon district, said starting up a company was just as difficult for a man as is was for a woman. Household responsibilities, however, often made operating a business challenging.

“Of course we must take care of the family,” she said from a hammock in front of her shop. “It’s really difficult because we must also cook and clean and take care of everything else at the same time.”

World Bank economist Reena Badiana noted as much during yesterday’s web conference. Cambodia still has a high levels of unpaid family labour and informal labour.

“If women in the Asia-Pacific region were to work in the same sectors as men, output per worker could be 7 to 18 per cent higher,” according to the report.

“If societies allocate resources on the basis of one’s gender, as opposed to one’s skills and abilities, this allocation comes as a cost,” the report stated.

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at



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