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Phnom Penh women talk about their lives

Phnom Penh women talk about their lives

International Women's Day, March 8, offered an ideal opportunity

to review the challenges faced by women in Cambodia. As NGOs issued reports and statistics

on the threats faced by Cambodian women, the Post asked women across Phnom Penh what

challenges they face in their daily lives.

"Men and women are equal in all fields, especially with respect to marriage

and family matters." So states Article 45 of the Cambodian Constitution. Set

alongside articles such as 36: "Housework is equal to outdoor work", the

document offers a bold statement of egalitarian intent.

But ten years after the constitution was drafted, the reality remains quite different.

Women in Cambodia are clearly vulnerable and marginalized and despite constitutional

statements to the contrary, women have few legal safeguards. A draft law offering

better protection for women's rights awaits ratification by the National Assembly,

but many believe the legal system lacks the will to protect women.

Oung Chanthol, director of Cambodia Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC), said the inadequate

legal system, along with poverty, were the two major causes of women's marginalization

in society.

She said it was important to strengthen the magistracy to ensure the law is carried

out. "Very, very few husbands have been punished for domestic violence or rape

against their families. It's really hard for women to find remedy against discrimination

and abuse."

She said high levels of poverty, particularly in rural areas, rendered women vulnerable

to trafficking and also meant women had less access education. "Here, equality

between men and women is still a big gap. If you look at women's' positions at decision-making

levels ... still very, very few women are in high positions."

Kek Galabru, director of Licadho, said trafficking, rape and domestic violence remained

the major challenges for women in Cambodia. One in four women have been physically,

sexually or emotionally abused by their husbands, Galabru said.

She said that good work had been done to educate the new generation on women's rights,

but there was still much to do.

"We have to work to change the attitudes of society. Women are objects of their


Those working in the women's rights field acknowledge they have their work cut out

for them. Frequently cited statistics on access to education and health care, low

literacy and employment rates, and of course vulnerability to violence and trafficking,

all point to the fact that the genders are nowhere near "equal in all fields".

To mark International Women's Day, the Post asked some Phnom Penh women about the

daily challenges they face as a woman in Cambodia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, combating

domestic violence and trafficking were usurped by the day to day concerns of accessing

education and money.

Chea Pao, 42.

Pao is a mother living in Phnom Penh.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

It's quite difficult as a woman. If we have children it's difficult to feed them

and earn money. It is also difficult when husbands and wives are living together

but not understanding each other. Sometimes there is violence. Women and men have

equal rights but in fact the woman still has less power than the man.

What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

We need happiness in the family. We need understanding from the husband. He should

learn from his wife about her problems. If we had more money and better living standards,

it would make marriage easier. Right now, there are a lot of stresses on marriages.

If you could have any career, what would you do?

I would have liked a job as an official but I could not because I had no education.

Chhim Eng, 51.

Eng lives alone in Phnom Penh. She works for Cintri as a street cleaner, and also

as a cleaner at the hospital.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

It is easier to be a man because a man can go everywhere. Women are afraid because

of security. Women also suffer violence. But women find it easier to find work than

a man because women are softer than men. They can ask for a job and they will get


What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

Knowledge and education is the main point.

If you could have any career, what would you do?

I would have had an education. If I had high knowledge, I could find a better job.

Sin Soworn, 33.

Soworn is a lawyer at the Cambodian Defenders Project.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

Poverty and education are the main challenges for women in Cambodia. Parents do not

allow their daughters to study much because they think that after they are married

they will be a housewife. There are still very traditional beliefs. But I think even

though women don't have power like men, they have intelligence and clever ways to

solve problems.

What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

Much of society still has traditional Khmer values and doesn't understand about the

rights of women. Our organisation (CDP) goes to the provinces to teach parents about

the rights of women and children, family values, and the issues of trafficking. But

we have not reached all women and men in the country. We need to do it in order to

stop the discrimination.

If you could have any career, what would you do?

I love being a lawyer, and I was lucky to have parents who encouraged my education

and I also had the will to study.

I would like to appeal to all women: do not think we are less capable than men. Even

if we have less power than men, we have to think that what a man can do, a woman

can do as well.

Sreya, 27.

Sreya (not her real name) was trafficked to Malaysia and bonded to work in a brothel.

She escaped and returned to Cambodia last month with her baby. She now lives in a

shelter in Phnom Penh.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

It is so difficult to be a woman in Cambodia. Women have no power. My husband would

drink wine and he would be violent. We did not have enough money.

What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

If a husband and a wife both have jobs, they would not have time to have arguments

and they have money to survive. There also needs to be a stronger law to protect

women from violence.

If you could have any career, what would you do?

For me, I would like to sell sugar cane juice so I can earn enough money to eat,

and also have time to look after my children. But I want my daughter to get a high

education, not like me. Uneducated girls are easy to cheat. If she has education

she will not be cheated.

Sieng Kim Huoy, 20.

Kim Huoy is a student at the University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

Actually women and men have equal rights but the problem is that when women want

to go anywhere or do something they can not go because of security. My mother will

not allow me to go out.

What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

There's no way to change it because when I ask permission from my parents they do

not allow me to go.

If you could have any career, what would you do?

I want to work in a bank. Girls have much more opportunities to work than men now

because most companies give priority to girls as they work harder than men and are

more successful than men.

Chan Samoeun, 45.

Samoeun has left her husband and survives by begging on the streets of Phnom Penh

with her children.

What are the major challenges for women in Cambodia?

The main challenge being a woman is to earn money to feed your children. It is very

difficult for me because I am very poor as well. It is hard to live alone. I have

no choices. I live day to day, just try to earn enough money to feed my family.

What would make life easier for women in Cambodia?

If we have money, we solve the problem. I cannot find work.

If you could have changed one thing about your life, what would it be?

If I had some money, I could start a small business. I could change my life.


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