Women are the least empowered and most at-risk group in Cambodian society, according
to a United Nations Development Program report released last week.
UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner told the Post on June 23 that equality
for women lies at the core of Cambodia's hopes for growth. According to the government's
Strategic Development Plan for 2006-2010, "gender equity issues are being addressed
in all sectors, particularly in agriculture, health, education."
But of the eight development "shortfalls" listed in the UNDP Annual Report,
three relate specifically to women: pervasive domestic violence, a poor reproductive
health record and lack of access for girls to secondary and tertiary education.
Further, a recent government-sponsored study stated that nearly 25 percent of all
women surveyed had been beaten by their husbands. In September 2005, a new Domestic
Violence Law, which Gardner said the UNDP helped the Ministry of Women's Affairs
to draft, was passed.
"The issue now is its implementation," Gardner said.
He said the UNDP would work with the government to ensure that the new law was effective
by flying in experts on enforcement from other countries, and sending Cambodian politicians
on fact-finding missions abroad.
According to the UNDP report, good progress has been made in closing the gap between
girls and boys at primary school, but girls are still under-represented at secondary
school. Although 46 percent of girls complete all six grades of primary school (compared
with 65 percent of boys) only 25 percent of girls complete the three grades of lower
secondary school (boys 44 percent).
The report also lists maternal health as an area where Cambodia is lagging behind
its neighbors. According to a government figures, more than one-fifth of deaths of
all women in the 15-to-44 age group are due to pregnancy complications.
Former Minister of Women's Affair Mu Sochua reiterated the need for fair treatment
for women in all aspects of life, during a recent discussion with the Post. In particular
she raised issues relating to Cambodian women in the workforce, which were not addressed
by the UNDP report.
Sochua said women contributed $2 billion to the Cambodian economy each year, but
in order to do so they were forced to make major personal sacrifices.
"Women migrate to the city and find jobs that pay absolutely the bare minimum,
and with these wages they support their family," said Sochua. "Conditions
have admittedly improved, but [this has] come from hard work... and from a constant
effort to be considered human beings."
"A pertinent example is beer girls," she added. "How does society
view these workers, as human capital or flesh? Their families are ashamed of their
employment yet tolerate it for the cash."