Although the number of female journalists has now increased, they are still far outnumbered by their male colleagues. According to a report by the Ministry of Information in 2021, out of a total of 5,000 Cambodian journalists, just 470 are women, equivalent to 9.4 per cent.

While there are a growing number of women in the sector, challenges to women should be addressed and cannot be overlooked. They face gender discrimination, harassment and technology literacy issues.

The “Our Voice” forum, which aimed to promote females in journalism, was organised by the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia in July with the participation of 50 women who shared their challenges and experiences and explored solutions to promote self-empowerment. It also offered resolutions that the information ministry should be able to take action on.

“In the past, women journalists have faced many challenges, but there is no clear record to address them in a systematic way in order for them to gain recognition at all levels. Therefore, the centre organised this forum to listen to the voices of all women journalists. If we speak together, we can solve these issues,” said Oung Chanthol, executive director of the media centre.

Chanthol spoke about the specific challenges women working in media faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Because their children could not go to school, some of them opted to resign and take care of their families full time. Looking after children is considered a woman’s job, which adds to their responsibilities, she added. Another is that digital advances make it harder for women to reach their full potential.

Kann Vicheika, a Khmer reporter with almost 10 years of experience in the field and currently with Voice of America, shared the challenges she has faced in her career, and also the solutions she has found.

“I know that the main obstacles women journalists face are family issues. Young women who want to be journalists are often discouraged by their families, because their family members consider the job dangerous and poorly paid. Journalists often have to work outside the office and sometimes have to run away from bullets or stones,” she said.

She shared her personal experience, saying that she began her journalism career at the age of 22. Her father asked her to resign three times, because she always had to travel to the provinces and work nights and weekends. She stuck to her path, and eventually, he came to understand that her work was important to her.

In addition, due to some outdated societal norms, support for women in the media is limited. Some are happy to be interviewed by female journalists, but others are not.

“I sometimes want to interview women who are in their 50s or 60s. They frequently do not believe I am a journalist. As for reporting in quiet areas, like remote parts of the provinces, or deep in the forest, women face the threat of violence, harassment, or even rape. Some sources’ wives are jealous of female journalists and cause inconveniences when interviews are being arranged. In addition, there is often verbal, online and sexual harassment,” she said.

Horn Thovan, a freelance journalist, replied to Vicheika, sharing her experience of a civil society official who tried to chat her up and asked her on a date while she was working.

Vicheika said that such a thing should be reported to the person’s superiors. It is illegal and unacceptable – journalists have rights that should be protected, she added.

Chhorn Sokunthea, director of the Media Development Department of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) spoke on the legal state of protections for women journalists, affirming that there are no articles that mention the protection of women, or any issues specific to women, such as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Bunthan Vorleak, a senior producer at CCIM, added that she wanted all media organisations with women employees to start thinking about how they could improve the protection of their staff.

In response to the issues raised, information ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn told The Post that the government and the ministry have always promoted women’s participation in social development, including in the field of news production. This could be seen in the year-on-year increase in the number of female journalists, he added.

The ministry has also developed a number of legal instruments, such as a Code of Conduct, in consultation with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, to protect women in general, and to provide legal assistance to journalists, regardless of their affiliations or gender.

“Currently, a draft of an updated press law is in the process of receiving input from all stakeholders. The ministry has already established a committee to prepare to amend this law,” he said.

“We held two consultative workshops to gather input from journalists. We will consider the opinions of everyone who submits them,” he added.