Senior officials and international envoys have urged cooperation from society to put a stop to all forms of violence against women amid concerns that incidence has risen across the country and the world since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi and UN Resident Coordinator Pauline Tamesis made key addresses at a conference on January 19 to mark the inauguration of the government’s third national action plan to prevent violence against women.

The ceremony was attended by 300 people including officials from around the nation and representatives from development partner organisations.

Sar Kheng said that everyone shared in the responsibility to eliminate violence against women. Society needs cooperation and commitment to provide protection for victims in a timely, effective and inclusive manner.

“Family violence, rape, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of women and children and drug issues remain immediate concerns for us,” he said.

Sar Kheng noted that 52 per cent of the country’s population were women, and for society to enjoy peace, safety and harmony, it was necessary for people to be respectful of each other and work together to address issues fairly and effectively.

He described the national action plan as a roadmap for further work, and he was optimistic that it could quickly be proven effective.

Kantha Phavi warned of dire consequences if ongoing efforts to prevent and stop violence and provide protection for women were not successful. She said as many as five million women in the Kingdom could be vulnerable.

She said that risks of domestic violence were exacerbated by stresses due to loss of family income, school closures, social isolation and increased family burdens, all of which have led to increased incidence of mental health crises.

Kantha Phavi expressed concern that measures to counteract violence and provide social services had been curtailed just when they were most needed.

“This rise in domestic violence will have severe costs for the economy and society. Relevant institutions should redouble their efforts to provide care during the Covid-19 crisis as it is the primary cause contributing to the increase,” she said.

UN Resident Coordinator Pauline Tamesis said: “Women have an important role in Cambodian society and are the backbone of the national economy and social development.

“Indeed, women’s equitable and active participation is vital to stability, helps prevent conflict and promotes sustainable, inclusive development.”

Tamesis noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had negatively impacted society in Cambodia, but women had been disproportionately affected.

“Sectors dominated by women and girls, such as garment and tourism, have been hardest hit. Many more women and girls are in informal work and are the first to lose their jobs. And when women lose their jobs, they have fewer alternatives than men to generate income.

“More girls have dropped out of school because of Covid-19. Girls take on more domestic responsibilities, cutting their time dedicated to learning,” she said.

The confluence of these factors made women particularly vulnerable, Tamesis explained.

“Globally, one in three women experience one form of intimate partner violence – physical, sexual or emotional – in their lifetime, and it is the same here in Cambodia.

“Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in all forms of violence against women and girls and threatens to roll back achievements of the sustainable development goals,” she said.