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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt approves Jakarta Declaration

Govt approves Jakarta Declaration

O

n June 14, 1994, the Secretary of State for Women's Affairs, Keat Sukun, in his

statement at the Second Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women in

Development, approved and adopted the Jakarta Declaration for the Advancement of

Women in Asia and the Pacific together with other ministers of the region.

Sukun praised the senior officials who compiled the declaration: "The

points you raised, both in the critical areas of concern and action to be taken,

are comprehensive and fundamental."

The Declaration pinpointed ten

critical areas of concern which highlight the themes of equality, development

and peace established for the United Nations Decade for Women. These were

elaborated at the Nairobi conference entitled Forward-looking Strategies for the

Advancement of Women Towards the Year 2000.

As the year 2000

approaches, and with the objectives of the Strategies still far from being

attained, the Jakarta Declaration devised goals, strategic objectives and action

to be taken to combat the following ten critical areas of concern:

 

  1. The growing feminization of poverty;
  2. Inequality in women's access to and participation in economic

    activities;

  3. Inadequate recognition of women's roles and their concerns in environment

    and natural resource management;

  4. Inequitable access to power and decision-making;
  5. Violation of women's human rights;
  6. Inequalities in and lack of access to health care;
  7. Negative portrayal of women in the media;
  8. Inequalities in and lack of access to education and literacy;
  9. Inadequate mechanisms for promoting the advancement of women;
  10. Inadequate recognition of women's role in peace-building.

In approving and adopting the Jakarta Declaration the Royal Government of

Cambodia, like those of the region, is committed to abide by the action to be

taken to ensure that the goals and objectives can be realized.

The

Declaration provides governments in the region with a framework for their

programs addressing women's concerns and integrating women in development until

the year 2000 and beyond. Action to be taken as detailed in the Jakarta

Declaration depends heavily on the goodwill of governments. The governments are

agents that must create conditions to overcome the ten critical areas of

concern.

With only six more years to the year 2000, each government must

start making financial arrangements to successfully implement the suggested

action to be taken. For Cambodia, as Sukun said at the Conference: "...there

remain a lot of things yet to be done."

Each ministry is yet to devise

policies and programs to advance the causes of women. This can be started by

close consultation with the Secretariat of State for Women's Affairs which

understands and is more knowledgeable about the problems facing

women.

The State Secretariat for Women's Affairs is an agent that

provides policy and program guidelines to the government in its efforts to raise

the status and living conditions of women.

Meanwhile last week 42

students celebrated their graduation from the Foreign Language Institute after

four years of higher education. Happy and gregarious, Thida and Savory (not real

names) were two of the eight women of the graduates. They intend to follow

careers as high school English teachers - a respectable job for Khmer women

traditionally. They were startled when asked why there were only eight women in

the group. As if they had never thought of it before, they mumbled incoherently

at first. Pressed further, the root of the problem was slowly

revealed.

"Not many women passed the entry exam four years ago", I was

told. The exam, which comprised mainly English, requires high school graduates

to be above average in the language. Students who passed the entry exam were the

ones who had pursued English in their own time. These private classes are

usually offered in the evening. Students attend these classes to expand their

future employment possibilities.

Girls, however, miss out from this

system of informal education.

It's not as easy for girls to attend

evening classes as boys. For parents there is the problem of security and loss

of face if anything untoward should happen. They tend to guard daughters more

than sons.

Also, four years of higher education is a major commitment

that not many girls can afford financially.

Parents' lack of commitment

to invest in girls' education is another obstacle. There exists the usual

injunction that they will get married and have children and will not pursue a

career outside the home.

With all the above problems, not many girls sat

the entry exam, and the number is declining over the years. Last year, for

example, out of the 3,000 candidates, only 100 were women, i.e. three per cent.

Of the 90 students who were accepted, eight were women, i.e. nine per

cent.

In order to be seen as complying with the Jakarta Declaration,

what can the government and the Institute do to increase women's participation?

Obviously some sort of affirmative action is needed to bolster women's

participation. Perhaps these will help:

  1. Provide scholarships for female students in order to take the burden away

    from the parents, who are more likely to support a son than a daughter if there

    exists the competition.

  2. Provide free English coaching for girls a few months before the entry

    exam.

  3. Lower the entry scores required for girls.
  4. Provide boarding facilities to attract girls from other provinces.
  5. Reduce the English content of the exam, and test them in other skills as

    well.

Boua Chanthou has been writing about women's affairs in Cambodia since 1980.

She is currently a technical advisor to the State Secretariat for Women's

Affairs. This article was written in a personal capacity.

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