Cambodia’s Country Report: “Women in Development” put out by the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs in English in May 1994, is now available in Khmer. In draft form the report can be obtained from the above office and is to be reviewed by men and women of the nation.
The report was prepared or the Fourth World Conference on Women entitled “Action for equality, Development and Peace”, sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing in September 1995. The report, however, was presented in June 1994 at the Second Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women in Development in Jakarta which was a regional preparation for Beijing.
Following the United Nations guidelines, the report gives an assessment of the general situation of the last fifteen years concerning women’s status with an eye to the future.
It reviews how Cambodian women have fared in the areas of health, education, employment, politics and family life. The report looks into the following eight areas of disparities between men and women:
- Inequality in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels,
- Mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women,
- Lack of awareness of, and commitment to, internationally and nationally recognized women’s rights,
- Inequality in women’s access to and participation in the definition of economic structures and policies and the productive process itself,
- Inequality in access to education, health, employment and other means to maximize awareness of women’s rights and the use of their capacities,
- Violence against women,
- 8.Effects on women of continuing national and international armed and other kinds of conflict.
The findings in the report are not glorious, but was nonetheless an important exercise that a nation such as Cambodia needs to do from time to time as a means to self reflect and measure the level of achievement. The report is an indication as to where the nation is heading and it is of most important as it looks at the situation from a woman’s perspective.
The Cambodian Development Resource Institute (CDRI), CIDSE and Oxfam United Kingdom and Ireland are the three agencies that support the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs and acted as consultants in the preparation and the publication of the report. The three agencies well known for their commitment to raising the status and living conditions for women, have strong records in this field.
Eva Mysliwiec, the director of CDRI, has been working in Cambodia since 1980 for various non-governmental organizations. Oxfam and CIDSE are among the oldest NGOs that started working in Cambodia soon after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. They played a part in averting famine and in slowly putting Cambodia on her feet again in the early 1980s.
After their experiences in Cambodia the three organizations came to the conclusion that for sustainable and equitable development to take place they must work in programs that serve to advance gender sensitivity in all sectors of the society.
They also believe that for true and momentous development to happen in Cambodia, room must be created for women to participate fully in economic activities and specially at a high decision-making level where policies are being formulated.
The United Nations’ Human Development Report 1994, shows that Cambodian women have the highest percentage in the world in terms of the labor force, 43 percent, and are playing a big role in propelling Cambodia’s economy towards recovery.
The UN report found that in all some 56 percent of Cambodian women are involved in economic activities, again the highest percentage in the world. This followed by Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with 48 percent.
The Cambodia’s Country Report: Women in Development, however, says that women’s participation in “decision-making at higher levels of the administration has been conspicuous by its absence”. It is obvious that in reality women “have been excluded from the process of shaping the economic structure and policies. Being at the lowest echelons in the informal sector, state sector and agriculture, they are relegated to low-paying, low-status jobs and unprotected environments.”
The report suggests that: “The low level of power sharing with women and the slow progress in correcting this trend has been influenced, partly by traditional forces, and partly by the war and poverty that has ravaged Cambodia over the last two decades.
“Widespread poverty has bogged women down with the day-to-day survival of their families, and prevented them from venturing into the political arena.”
It is perhaps true that traditional forces have something to do with the rigid manner of the Cambodian society in excluding women from public life, but one should not be too pessimistic given the fact that tradition is not a static entity but evolves from time to time.
It is obvious, however, that changes depend heavily on the goodwill of the government and men. They must be willing to give up some of their share of power for the benefit of progress and national development.
Cambodia’s Country Report: Women in Development also provides readers with an overview of the situation of women. One can find in it women’s participation rates in education, maternal mortality rates, infant and child mortality rates, women in the police forces and many more.
The report also sets out the future strategic goals and objectives for the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs which is the national machinery to enhance the status of women.
As said earlier, the report is to be reviewed by men and women from all walks of lives and institutions. Any suggestions or criticisms made in writing will be taken into consideration by the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs, if received before the end of November 1994.
- Boua Chanthou has been writing about Cambodian women since 1980. She is currently a consultant to the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs. This article was written in a personal capacity.