In its latest plan to tackle gender disparities, the government applauded its own progress, while still acknowledging persistent challenges, such as a lack of women in leadership roles, and new ones, such as women’s vulnerability to climate change.
“The situation of women has improved remarkably over the past decade . . . However challenges and gaps still remain for equality between women and men, especially in the formal economy, politics and decision-making, and upper-secondary and tertiary education,” said Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An at yesterday’s launch of the fourth National Strategic Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.
Earlier this year, Cambodia ranked 108th out of 142 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, put together by the World Economic Forum. Cambodia’s overall score has barely increased since 2006.
A gender study by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs that accompanied the strategic plan yesterday found that while women’s participation in the labour market is high, their involvement continues to be impaired by low wages and limited options to develop professional skills.
The nation has also encountered slow gains in girls’ access to tertiary and technical education. Female enrolment in higher education inched up to 37.6 per cent in 2011 compared with 33 per cent in 2008.
Challenges to curtailing such inequalities include lack of funding, legal gaps and an attitude that gender issues are the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, according to the gender assessment.
Yesterday, Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr Ing Kantha Phavi emphasised the need to also address high rates of sexual exploitation and violence against women. Last year, the UN found that one in five men in Cambodia admitted to rape, though 44 per cent had never faced any sort of legal consequences.
“The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and its partners and social organisations have put much effort into national planning to prevent the violence against woman . . . we need to create a nonviolent culture in Cambodian society,” said Kantha Phavi.
A 2010 study found that 47.5 per cent of Cambodian women agreed to one or more reasons granting men the right to beat their wives.
To address such attitudes and reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls, the new strategic plan suggests promoting public awareness and expanding the ranks of judicial police officers.
Enhanced social and legal protections for women are one of the six priority areas targeted in the new, five-year action.
But Lem Muny, director of Women and Children’s Rights at Licadho said in order to curtail violence against women Cambodia needs to do more to end impunity of gender crimes.