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Minister promises swift laws

Minister promises swift laws

T wo pilot government women's centers will open in 1995,

while legislation covering women's rights in labor, domestic violence, health

and social welfare will soon be presented to parliamentary committees, according

to Secretary of State in Charge of Women's Affairs Keat Sukun.

"We hope

to present the legislation in the first month of parlia-ment's second session,"

Sukun said, waiving a manila folder holding Section 7 of the voluminous draft

law during an interview with the Post.

Sukun sees the law as the new

cornerstone of women's legal rights, but his views on the significance of

women's issues are not shared by all his cabinet colleagues.

While the

His Majesty King Sihanouk, the co-Prime Ministers, HE Chea Sim, and the Minister

for Health stress the importance of women, "Unfortunately others are still

reluctant to receive my ideas," said Sokun.

It is this hesitation which

Sukun sees as the primary reason that a man was selected to represent women's

concerns.

Sukun, an economist who was elected president of the

Australian Khmer community, was deeply effected by the problems he saw while

working with Khmer women in exile.

"Someone was needed who can be an

intermediary between men and women.

"It seems to me we still have social

constraints in terms of women's rights in Cambodia.

"We have a very good

constitution in terms of women's rights. But at this time with a law on its way

to parliament it's better to have a man to protect women's rights in government.

The law and women's needs will be taken more seriously. To have a man talk to

them is more effective than women."

Sukun plans to open women's centers

in every province providing "vocational education, information about human

rights, and other facilities and services such as some health care, if we can

find medical staff in the province."

"I plan to have two pilot projects -

at Kompong Speu and Kandal," he said, adding that in Kompong Speu local monks

had promised to give the cash-constrained secretariat land on which to build the

center.

Sukun hopes the crafts exhibition to be included in the center,

to be built on a plot along the Phnom Penh-Kompong Som highway, will catch

tourist eyes and dollars on their way to the beach.

"We have to teach

women marketing, administration skills, budgeting, new technology, and how to

change what they produce to

meet market demand," Sukun.

Budgetary

restraints stop Sukun from making grandiose plans, or projecting when centers

would open in other provinces.

"We can't do as much as we want. I

requested 6 billion riel from the national budget and only received 1 billion,"

he shrugged.

 

country Sukun has observed that skills which could be taught to younger women

are not automatically passed on.

"For instance in Kompong Cham I met a

woman potter who had five children, yet she had never taught any how to make a

pot. I prefer parents train their sons and daughters in the traditional skills,

then we can ask someone to come in and train them in the new

technology."

Trying to change women's attitudes about what is appropriate

training can be difficult as well. "When I talk to young girls I say 'Why don't

you study to become an engineer, or an electrician or a mechanic? In the future

you can do all these things.' But they just giggle and say "Nooooo, that's for

the boys.....'"

"Many Cambodian women don't even want to drive," he

added.

"One problem we also have is to get girls to continue to study. If

a school or high school is close to home a family will let a girl study.

"But to continue to university they have to come to Phnom Penh. Many

families wouldn't let women live on their own in the city.

"I think

girls chances for education would improve if the government provided a dormitory

only for women at the university, with security, so parents know their daughters

would be safe."

One job possibility for young women Sukun would like to

eliminate is prostitution.

"Prostitution is illegal according to the

constitution but I don't think we will ever eliminate prostitution. We do have

to control how women are looked at, their human rights, and also the social

health problems. We don't want to be famous for prostitution, like other

countries, and we don't want people to come here to exploit women or

children."

To control prostitution, one must also educate men. "We want

to teach them to respect their wife and the danger prostitution presents to

their lives and the life of their family."

Sukun does not deny that many

men, including some of his friends, do not take women's rights seriously. "I try

to get them to understand the evolution of events. For the last 25 years they

thought about fighting, now its time to think about women and

children."

"In the last 25 years the Khmer family has been broken. The

reconciliation of the nation comes from the family."

When does Sukun

think the Secretariat in charge of Women's Affairs will actually be administered

by a woman? "I told the staff I come here to work with you, not over you. When

the centers have started running then I think it will be a good time for a woman

to start."

How does Sukun's wife feel about her husband's job? He

laughed. "She loved it when I told her."

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