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Outrage over gender comments

Outrage over gender comments

W OMEN have expressed shock and disappointment at the comments of two senior

officials, including the Second Prime Minister, on women's issues.

"The

Second Prime Minister's statement is similar to what some male leaders in some

Asian countries said twenty years ago," said Dr Hema Goonatilake, a

Gender-in-Development expert with the United Nations Development

Program.

She was referring to Hun Sen's comments, reported in the Post's

last issue, that women should not "demand" rights to protect them from supposed

violence from men.

Dr Hema said: "He appears to have misunderstood the

women's cause in Cambodia, that is to eliminate the constraints women face in

Cambodia and fully participate along with men in the development

process.

"Within the last two years, Cambodian women have been able to

make up for lost time by making an effort to assert their rightful place with

dignity.

"Unfortunately, the men have lagged behind in their awareness of

gender, one of the major issues of development, well recognized by the United

Nations and other agencies," she said.

The director of the Khmer Women's

Voice Center, Koy Veth, said she was unhappy at Hun Sen's comments, which

indicated he did not pay much attention to women's affairs.

Hun Sen,

speaking at a seminar on a draft women's rights law late last month, complained:

"I don't agree that men suppress women. For my mother, my father treated her

carefully and for me, I treat my wife carefully too."

He said women were

"always demanding rights, demanding rights" and he was tired of hearing that

"men treat women badly".

The last issue of the Post also reported that

the Secretary of State for Women's Affairs, Keat Sukun, would lead the Cambodian

delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in

September.

He defended that, saying any Cambodian woman who headed such a

delegation would face problems of language and lack of experience in such

matters.

"[Women] are used to sitting in the back row. If we put them in

the front row and ask them to make a speech, take notes and answer questions, I

think they would be unable to manage as they have little experience," he

said.

Sukun's deputy, Under-secretary of State of Women's Affairs Im Run

said last week she had been surprised at both Hun Sen and Keat Sukun's

comments.

She said that women had not expected Hun Sen to say such

things, and had thought he would express the same sentiments as First Prime

Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Ranariddh told the same seminar that he

supported women's rights and spoke of the need to promote the Secretariat of

State for Women's Affairs into a full government ministry.

Im Run said

Hun Sen was a busy man, preoccupied with all of Cambodia's problems, and did not

have anyone to inform him of family issues such as domestic

violence.

There were some in society, she said, who thought that a

husband who occasionally hit his wife did not deserve to be treated as a

criminal. Such people might be opposed to the draft women's law, which included

provisions against domestic violence and marital rape.

Regarding the

comments of Keat Sukun, Im Run said she did not understand why a person who was

supposed to be a women's leader would make such statements.

She said

Sukun appeared to be sticking to old-fashioned viewpoints.

Run said she

might be included in the Cambodian delegation to the Beijing conference, if

funds were available, but she was unlikely to make any speeches there because

she was not the head of the delegation or a government minister.

She

believed some Cambodian women were capable of leading delegations to

international conferences. She herself had led the delegation to the Third World

Conference on Women in Denmark in 1980.

Dr Hema Goonatilake said she had

been "sad and ashamed" to read Sukun's statements because "I know that there are

women in Cambodia who can perform at any international seminar with competence

and dignity".

In what she termed "the Cambodian phenomenon," she said

Cambodian women had achieved more in two years than women in other Asian

countries had in 10 to 20 years.

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