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Gender wage gap daunting

A garment worker attaches labels to items of apparel in Phnom Penh. A new survey by the ILO found that an earning gap of 35 per cent exists between young Cambodian men and women.
A garment worker attaches labels to items of apparel in Phnom Penh. A new survey by the ILO found that an earning gap of 35 per cent exists between young Cambodian men and women. Vireak Mai

Gender wage gap daunting

Cambodia's young women are earning far less than their male counterparts, a recent study has found, even though a relatively high percentage of them are employed.

A survey conducted in 32 developing countries by the International Labour Organization found that 80 per cent of Cambodian women aged 15 to 24 were employed, which, while lower than the 99 per cent of young Cambodian males with jobs, was one of the survey’s highest.

However, the earnings gap between young Cambodian women and men was 35 per cent, the fourth-highest of the 23 countries surveyed by the ILO for that measure. Vietnam, the only other Southeast Asian country surveyed, performed significantly better, with an overall wage gap of 15 per cent.

For Cambodian women, the gap persists across various levels of education. For recent primary, secondary and tertiary education graduates, Cambodian women earned about 30 per cent, 50 per cent, and 20 per cent less than men, respectively, according to the study.

The ILO survey suggests the pay gap is driven by family constraints upon a young woman’s earning power – such as having to get married early – and the fact that women typically obtained lower-level positions in poorly paid sectors.

Of the young Cambodian women who did not work, more than 37 per cent said their inactivity was due to family duties or pregnancy.

That compares to just 2.4 per cent of young men who pointed to familial obligations. Most men weren’t working due to ongoing education.

For Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, the results came as no surprise.

“I’ve noticed that most of the women [in Cambodia] get lower job positions than men,” she said.

“For example, the garment sector is 80 to 90 per cent female, but almost all the technical, team leader or manager positions are male.”

To help breach the gap, the ILO recommended increased government spending and subsidies on skills training for women, along with improved childcare.

But while Sopheap said that ramping up spending would help level the playing field, it was no panacea. “I think stereotypes are still very big in this society,” she said. “If looking for engineers, [employers] will only trust the men.”

Chan Kannha, 20, a female garment worker in Kandal province, said the men there usually made more money.

“I don’t know why, but I think that maybe the employer believes the men are stronger and have more knowledge, that’s why they always get more wages and sometimes a higher position.”


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