Despite making some gains, Cambodian women continue to fall well short of their male counterparts when it comes to education and position in the labour market, a study released yesterday by the International Labor Organization reports.
Men account for just five per cent more of Cambodia’s approximately 7.4 million-person workforce, but earn about $25 per month more than women, the study says.
That disparity is likely linked to inequality in education received, said Ros Sopheap, executive director of NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia.
“There are some changes if you compare to 10 years before, but the changes have not come as far as we want,” Sopheap said yesterday. “In Cambodia, they believe men have an important role in the family to study higher education.… Girls are encouraged to stop studying, to contribute to the household income.”
The ILO’s Labour Force Report, which surveyed Cambodia’s labour market and child labour last year, says that more than 1.14 million women reported never having attended school. That figure is more than double that of men surveyed.
Reasons the women provided to surveyors for never attending school fall closely in line with Sopheap’s hypothesis: 12.7 per cent said their parents would not allow it, the study reported. Other reasons included the inability to pay for schooling and living too far from a school.
Although more women than men have completed primary school (by a margin of more than 525,000), they account for only 43 per cent of the Kingdom’s secondary school graduates and 32 per cent of those who completed university.
A decreasing ratio of women to men attending school from primary education to higher levels places them in a more vulnerable position when they enter the workforce, Sopheap said.
“When you get higher education, you’re not subject to exploitation,” Sopheap said. Cambodia’s garment industry provides an example of women’s precarious position in the labour market, she added.
More than 80 per cent of Cambodia’s unionised garment workers are women, according to ILO’s report. But factories are known country-wide to offer poor working conditions where fainting is endemic and the $75 per month minimum salary falls well below the Asia Floor Wage Alliance of $281 per month.
But despite the numbers, women who never attend or drop out of school are largely aware that education begets more opportunities, and want to further their education, Sopheap said.
A rising literacy rate among working-age (15 years or older) Cambodians, may reflect this desire. The Kingdom saw a two per cent increase of literate workers according to the report, but the largest increase in this category came from rural women.