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.
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.
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
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
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.
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,"
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
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
"Many Cambodian women don't even want to drive," he
"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.
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
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
"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
How does Sukun's wife feel about her husband's job? He
laughed. "She loved it when I told her."