Today is International Women’s Day, and there is no better occasion to shine a light on the valuable contributions of women and girls in Cambodian society.
According to the National Institute of Statistics, 52.4 per cent of Cambodian women in 2009 were self-employed, but just 0.3 per cent of the women in Cambodia were classified as employers.
Women are also twice as likely to face wage discrimination or find themselves in unpaid work.
The garment industry is one of the biggest employers in the country, with an estimated 350,000 employees.
According to the International Labour Organisation, 90.7 per cent of them are women, and their remittances support an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.
As the stories published on a new United Nations-sponsored “New Waves” blog today clearly illustrate, there is no shortage of incredibly inspiring women and girls in Cambodia.
The personal stories featured on this blog tell of the fierce spirit, determination and perseverance of so many women and girls in this country who have not simply settled for the conditions they were dealt in their lives.
They have worked and struggled to change their lives, and the realities in their community, for the better.
These are women who seek economic empowerment and to strengthen their community and their country.
Essential to economic empowerment is the ability to believe in oneself.
It is through sharing these positive stories of women that we will inspire the continual growth of better protection of women’s rights, recognise women’s achievements and build stronger economic development in this country.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr Ing Kantha Phavi has often referred to the very substantial contributions of women to Cambodia’s economy—citing the fact that a great majority of businesses in the informal sector are women-owned.
For that reason, today is an opportune moment to reflect on the economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of Cambodian women.
Entrepreneurship is a path to the creation of jobs and incomes, and entrepreneurs play an important role in a country’s growth and its market economy.
Studies have shown that engaging women in business leads to fairer employment, improved corporate social responsibility and greater investment back into local communities.
In many emerging economies, women are setting up businesses at a faster rate than men, and women in Cambodia should be further encouraged and supported to do the same.
Cambodian women entrepreneurs are charting a new course in their economic pursuits.
They should be recognised for their resilience and determination in adapting to change, and for their strong leadership qualities in both the informal and formal sectors.
Considering the needs of their families, communities and businesses, Cambodian women entrepreneurs have demonstrated courage, technical skill and the capacity to build strong relationships.
But although many women are actively engaged in economic activities, most of them are working in the informal sector, particularly in the agricultural and manufacturing industries.
Improving the economic empowerment of women in Cambodia will require particular efforts to address a lack of direct market linkages; a lack of production capacity; a lack of business-management and data-management skills; and the low level of co-operation with the private sector.
Between 2011 and 2015, the United Nations in Cambodia plans to spend $33 million to address the needs of women in this country.
Part of this effort is aimed at strengthening the economic participation of women.
ThIs year, the UN will be working to strengthen women in business, producers’ groups and self-help groups.
We will also be supporting women to improve their productivity and the quality of their products.
Furthermore, we will continue our collaboration with social partners and NGOs to form and sustain more women’s business associations and promote the rights of women migrant workers seeking jobs abroad.
These efforts must be supported by the government, development partners and, especially, the private sector.
Douglas Broderick is the UN resident co-ordinator in Cambodia. Wenny Kusuma is the country director for UN Women.