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A garment worker performs qualit- control checks before ironing at a factory in Phnom Penh
A garment worker performs quality control checks before ironing at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Training aimed at tackling discrimination by gender

Cambodia's booming garment sector is a hotbed of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, rights advocates said yesterday, as the industry’s employers association plans to co-host training sessions aimed at curbing the long-running problem.

Beginning on Thursday, CARE Cambodia in conjunction with the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), will host the upcoming two-day training, which sets out to create a greater understanding among managers of what is deemed harassment, gender-based violence and other issues.

In the Kingdom’s largest export industry, whose workforce is some 90 per cent women, female workers are often subject to job insecurity in addition to sexual harassment in the workplace, Aruna Kashyap, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division, said in an email yesterday.

“Gender inequality and gender-based discrimination manifests itself in many ways: not hiring ‘older’ women to work in factories; finding ways to cut costs by . . . putting them on short-term contracts,” Kashyap said. “Or not creating an enabling working environment; more men in management positions . . . cases where managers use sexually charged curse words to reprimand workers.”

Pregnancy is also a large obstacle for women working at garment factories, a 2012 International Labour Organization study says. Garment workers typically work on short-term labour contracts, enabling their supervisors to decline to renew. A major reason for refusal to renew a contract is pregnancy, which, according to the Labour Law, guarantees the employee at least three months of leave time, the ILO report says.

“While all pregnant women are entitled to maternity leave for a minimum of 90 calendar days under the Cambodian labour law, only women with a minimum of one year of uninterrupted service in the enterprise are entitled to maternity benefits,” the study says.

Dave Welsh, country manager of labour rights group Solidarity Center, yesterday said it is important that factory managers are receiving training on gender inequality.

“Management are guilty of this; they are the ones who apply or misapply the law,” Welsh said.

The upcoming training sessions will seek to educate employers on what qualifies as sexual harassment.

“Surveys show that people have some understanding of what behaviour is sexual harassment, but there is not a clear understanding of which behaviours are against the law or why all sexual harassment is inappropriate and offensive,” a CARE flyer about the program says. “Gaining a good understanding is the first step towards developing an effective policy for preventing sexual harassment from happening.”

Sexual harassment and other forms of gender inequality have long been a concern of GMAC, which began partnering with CARE about a decade ago, GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said yesterday.

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