Cambodia and gender equality

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Cambodian women represent 51 percent of the population, but their participation at a high level is restricted, says The Asia Foundation. KT/Mai Vireak

Women can unlock the growth potential of any society both in developed and developing countries.

A study by McKinsey Global Institute found that by advancing women’s equality, $12 trillion would be added to the world GDP by 2025.

Although there is increasing recognition of the role of women in socio-economic development, women across Asia still face a wide range of issues such as access to education and skills, access to financial services, equal promotion opportunities at the workplace and domestic violence.

The report by the Asean Secretariat on Projected Impact of the Asean Economic Community identified several key gender gaps in Southeast Asia, including gender differentials in the share of export, employment and wages.

The majority of women are employed in vulnerable sectors with limited access to social benefits and protection.

In Cambodia, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank, there are a number of gender gaps such as the decent wage gap, human capital gap and social protection gap.

Such gender gaps prevent Cambodia from realising its growth potential.

Although the rate of female participation in the labour market has been gradually improving, women are still facing the gender wage gap.

“Cambodian women represent 51 percent of the country’s population, yet their ability to participate as equal partners in social political and economic life is severely constrained,” stated The Asia Foundation’s report.

The cultural norms that unfairly construct the role of women as housewives and mothers remain strong in Cambodian society.

Social attitudinal change is therefore needed.  Gender disparity in education must be further reduced and women’s empowerment in the workplace must be further promoted.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng reiterated the commitment of the government to empowering women in the public sector.

The ratio of female civil servants has slightly increased from 21.13 percent in 2011 to 25.98 percent in 2016.

To address gender inequality, we need to have a holistic strategy to address gender bias at the family, social, corporate and state levels.

At the family level, women have significantly contributed to household work, which is unpaid and largely unrecognised. Parents’ support of girls’ education also matters.

At the corporate level, women earn less than men for the same job. Advancement opportunities are also less for female staff.

At the state level, women’s participation in politics remains very limited.

Cambodia must further strengthen multi-stakeholder partnership among the public sector, private corporations and civil society organisations to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Assuring women equal access to economic benefits, political opportunity and social protection would empower women to become true agents of socio-economic development and poverty reduction.

As Cambodia is developing the next phase of its gender mainstreaming strategy, three pathways are suggested here.

First, mainstreaming gender in education and skill development. In addition to basic education and vocational training, within the context of the digital economy and fourth industrial revolution, women also needs necessary skills such as ICT skills to stay competitive in the labour market.

The World Economic Forum’s report points out that “disruptions to labour markets brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution as well as demographic and socio-economic change may have a disproportionately negative impact on women than men”.

Second, mainstreaming gender in corporate governance. The government needs to work closely with the private sector to develop an affirmative action or soft regulation to achieve gender equality in the governance of private corporations.

Gender pay equity and equal promotion opportunity should be encouraged and implemented to empower women and also improve the productivity of companies.

Studies have shown that gender-diverse work teams are more productive.

Third, mainstreaming gender in public institutions. The government agencies need to develop their own internal research to assess gender gaps within their institutions then develop strategy to achieve gender equality.

Each state institution needs to have a capacity to implement and assess the implementation of policies and action plans on gender mainstreaming.

Fair representation of women in the public service, including in leadership positions, is critical to achieving gender equality.

Vannarith Chheang is a Southeast Asian analyst based in Singapore and Phnom Penh.

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