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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt, NGOs in conference consensus

Govt, NGOs in conference consensus

JAKARTA - The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap)

organized the second Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women and

Development, which brought together officials from over 50 countries in the

region. Hosted by the Indonesian government, the Conference was in two parts -

both equally important.

Senior officials had a five day meeting from

June 7-11 to discuss women's issues from a country perspective as they

deliberated on a regional plan of action.

This was to be followed, as

the Post went to press, with a ministerial meeting on June 13-14, where the

regional plan of action was to be adopted. This document will be submitted for

incorporation in the plan of action for the Fourth World Conference on Women to

be held in Beijing in September 1995.

More than seventy non-governmental

organizations, represented by approximately 150 women, also participated in the

Jakarta conference. Working just as hard as the government, NGOs lobbied to

ensure that the plan of action reflected the situation of women in the


For the plan of action to be acceptable by both sides, extreme

patience, understanding and a respect for procedure were required, and

recognition of the need to move forward together was a necessary prerequisite

for the success of the conference.

Many government delegates, of course,

preferred to highlight their positive activities and therefore glossed over the

real difficulties faced by their female citizens.

NGOs, on the other

hand, because of their working nature, understand and know better the real

situation of women, who they work closely with. Tension, therefore, existed

between government and NGOs because of their histories and their sets of

priorities in solving women's problems.

The Cambodian delegates are a

little unusual in the sense that when it comes to women's issues there exists a

near consensus between government and NGOs. Their work compliments each other.

One of the eight-strong Cambodian delegation Ms Koy Veth, director of

Khmer Women's Voice, observed that her view is not very different from the


A shortage of resources to implement their set of

priorities is holding back both the government and NGOs, she added.

According to Escap, the economic progress in the region during the last

decade has not opened up more opportunities for women to participate in

political, social, health and welfare activities. This is not surprising as the

growth was never concretely planned and consultation with women was at best

minimal, delegates said.

Education lies at the heart of this problem and

delegates from government and NGOs in Jakarta this week understood fully and

adopted this as their statement of critical concern: "Lack of literacy and basic

skills not merely precludes large sections of women from productive employment

opportunities, it affects the quality of life of women, as well as that of the

rest of the society in numerous ways.

"A significant number of studies

from all over the region have conclusively shown that female literacy is the

single most important factor in determining the success of family planning and

primary health care services ... women continue to constitute a lower percentage

of the student body, especially at the secondary and higher levels in almost all

countries of the region. They form an insignificantly small fraction of it in

most science and technology fields."

This statement echoed the view

expressed by Cambodian delegate Ms Ros Sivanna, who told the conference: "Girls

participation at school is still low. At primary level their participation is

around 45 percent. However, their retention rates after primary level fall


"Enrolment rates at lower secondary and upper secondary

dropped to around 35 percent and 25 percent respectively. At higher education

girl participation accounts for only about 10-15 percent or less."


Cambodia Country Report on Women in Development produced by the Secretariat of

State for Women's Affairs for the Jakarta Conference said: "Women have not

broken into technical fields. The Institute of Technology has very low women

participation rates. In the school year 1989-90 there were 716 students of whom

49 were women (6.8 percent). While the number of students in technical education

increased to 1,715 for the school year 1993-94, the number of women declined to

only 27, ie 1.5 per cent."

How to solve these problems?


The plan of action which was passed by the Jakarta Conference offered

several courses to be taken. Among others they are:

  • All countries, especially those with high level of female illiteracy should

    immediately set up national literacy missions and endow them with adequate

    resources in order to attain elimination of adult female illiteracy.

  • Measures should be taken to ensure wide dispersal of educational facilities

    across geographical space at least up to the secondary level, so that access of

    all women living in remote and rural areas is fostered.

  • Women's induction in technical, scientific and other non-traditional fields

    should be actively promoted.

  • Gender studies should be promoted to ensure that gender perspective is

    integrated into all levels of education and in all fields.

For Cambodia, the lack of resources and more importantly the lack of peace

are obstacles in implementing these courses of action.

As a Cambodian

delegate told the conference: "While women welcomed the introduction of

democracy and the opportunity to learn from their sisters of the region as the

country is opened up, we are saddened by the fact that peace has not yet been

fully achieved despite the United Nation's efforts."

She then went on to

describe the plight facing Cambodian women who are caught up in the war. The

hall full of nearly 500 men and women of the region listened


Boua Chantou is a technical consultant to the State

Secretariat for Women's Affairs. This article was written in a personal

capacity. Chantou has been writing about Cambodian women for many years.



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