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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt gears up for Beijing conference

Govt gears up for Beijing conference

T

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

September 1995.

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

strategies.

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

are concerned.

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

rank.

The new government which was formed in November 1993 has no women

ministers. There are five women Under-Secretaries of State.

Nonetheless

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

society.

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

women's issues.

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

women,

- an increase in prostitution and the number of women infected with

HIV,

- a lack of day care centers,

- a decline in income from agricultural

production for women,

- increase in landlessness among

women,

- 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

mortality and

- a high rate of infant and child mortality.

It is

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.

Boua

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

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