he Fourth World Conference on Women entitled "Action for Equality, Development
and Peace," sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing will not take place until
But June 7 sees the start of an important week-long
preparatory event in Jakarta, the Second Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference
on Women in Development in the lead up to Beijing.
The last three World
Conferences on Women which were attended by government and non-government
representatives were held in Mexico city in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi
in 1985 where participants adopted the Forward-looking Strategies for the
Advancement of Women to the Year 2000.
The strategies provide a framework
for action at the national, regional and international levels to promote greater
equality and opportunity for women.
The objectives of the Beijing
conference next year are to review and appraise the advancement of women since
1985, to focus on the key issues identified as obstacles to women, and to
determine the priorities to be followed from 1996-2001 for implementation of the
Cambodia will go to Beijing. This will be the first time the
country attends the World Conference on Women as a one-nation state. The last
three conferences took place at a time when Cambodia was plagued with division
and was represented by either the Khmer Rouge or the Coalition government, with
the SOC government attending as an NGO.
To attend these conferences
every nation state must produce a national report which shows how much or how
little progress each state has made concerning women's status in the last
fifteen years. For Cambodian women the last fifteen years have been consumed
with physical and economic survival because of the war and destruction that has
shattered their motherland.
Little energy was left for women to struggle
for application of the SOC constitution which guaranteed equality of men and
women. Gender sensitization and related issues have been neglected and were not
on the national agenda.
Political and military matters took center stage
and even now politicians have yet to be convinced that women can be the key to
the resolution of some of these problems.
This was most clearly
demonstrated in the May 1993 elections by the fact that only five per cent of
the candidates nominated by the twenty or so political parties were women, and
only four percent of the elected MPs were women.
This happened despite
the fact that women represented 54 percent of registered voters and among the
four and half million people who voted, 58 per cent were women. Nonetheless a
core group of women struggled to ensure that the constitution, which was
promulgated in September 1993 is a forward-looking one as far as women's rights
However, compared with the decade of the 1980s, the result
of the 1993 elections was a set-back for Cambodian women. In the 1980's there
were 21 women out of the 117 members of parliament, representing 18 per cent.
The SOC government had one woman minister (industry), two vice-ministers (health
and foreign affairs) and one ambassador. The President of the Womens Association
of Cambodia, the General Secretary of the Assembly, the President of the Trade
Unions and the Director of the Party's newspaper all had ministerial
The new government which was formed in November 1993 has no women
ministers. There are five women Under-Secretaries of State.
when the new Royal Government was formed, a Secretariat of State for Women's
Affairs was set up. The tasks of the Secretariat are (1) to protect women's
rights at home and in the work place, and (2) to improve living conditions by
making the role of women more prominent in economic development and national
The emergence of democracy is another promising tool to enhance
the voice of women. With women comprising 54 per cent of registered voters, it
will be difficult for politicians, who are now predominantly men, to overlook
Moreover, in the last couple of years, indigenous
non-governmental organizations dealing with women's issues and human rights have
been mushrooming throughout the country. This phenomenon will be an added
impetus to the advancement of women.
So, there is a framework to promote
women's issues and this creates and renews an atmosphere of hope for Cambodian
women. Perhaps this will be a starting point for solving some of the problems
that were caused by the recent economic liberalization, widespread poverty and
the absence of a financial commitment to advocate for women's advancement.
These problems include:
- an increase in the number of unemployed
- an increase in prostitution and the number of women infected with
- a lack of day care centers,
- a decline in income from agricultural
production for women,
- increase in landlessness among
- higher rate of illiteracy among women
- low rate of female
participation in education and vocational training at all levels,
- a decline
in female participation in politics and government,
- a high rate of maternal
- a high rate of infant and child mortality.
quite safe to say with the available statistical data concerning the above
issues Cambodia is not going to be a proud nation in Beijing. But with the
existing framework there is hope for improvement, not in time for next year
given the fact that the Secretariat of State for Women's Affairs receives only
0.12 percent of the 1994 national budget, but, perhaps by the year 2001 provided
there is a resolution to the current political conflict and stalemate which is
certainly increasing the suffering and degradation of women.
Chanthou has been writing about Cambodian women since 1980. She is an advisor to
the State Sectretariat for Women's Affairs. This article was written in a
personal capacity. Next issue deals with Women in education