Women in Cambodia by Sara Monti

Gender balance in Cambodia is not only a women’s issue but primarily an economic and social issue.
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Sara Monti, Italian lawyer and Board Member of the European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (EuroCham) and of the Italian Cambodian Business Association (ICBA), is actively involved in progress toward gender equality and women empowerment in Cambodia. Thanks to Sara’s commitment, Eurocham has put the topic of promoting female leadership at the center of its agenda. Today we are sitting with Sara to learn more about her views on gender equality and job inclusivity in the Kingdom.

Sara, why is gender inclusion in the workplace so important for the Cambodian economy?

The issue of gender equality and job inclusivity in Cambodia is becoming more and more important, sometimes even more than what happens in Western countries. Evidence suggests that increasing women’s power over economic resources generates positive effects on society and the economy. Based on a Mckinsey study in 2018, gender equality in Cambodia could lead to an increase of 11.9% above and beyond business-as-usual GDP in 2025.

Moreover, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that higher female earnings result in greater investment in children’s education, health, and nutrition, leading to economic growth in the long run.

Gender balance is not only a women’s issue but primarily an economic and social issue.

What is the current position of women in the Cambodian job market?

Today the share of women in wage employment and entrepreneurship has increased, indicating improvements in gender equality in the labour market. Significant progress has also been achieved in women’s representation in elected positions in local communities and the national assembly. Between 2000 and 2018, female laborers make up about 48% of the total labor force and about 80% of the total female population in Cambodia, across different economic sectors like agriculture, industry, and services. Furthermore, it was found that 65% of SMEs are owned and run by women.

These data certainly seem encouraging. Unfortunately, many Cambodian women are still facing immense challenges in advancing their economic opportunities and are failing to achieve parity with men in terms of wage, professional treatment, and career advancement. Women continue to experience great disadvantages at work and they are still under-represented amongst the highest levels of management.

What challenges are women facing in advancing their economic opportunities?

First of all, as of today, Cambodia does not have any official women’s economic empowerment policy or strategy, Cambodia’s investment in women’s economic empowerment remains significantly low. The country has not sufficiently integrated the gender perspective into the national budgeting agenda. This may lead to very slow progress in terms of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the development indicators.

Secondly, women-run businesses are primarily concentrated in the wholesale and retail trade and services sector at the micro-level. They stay small and do not reach the scale to export. One reason is that they do not officially register their businesses with the Ministry of Commerce, because they feel that the registration process is too intricate and unclear. By lacking legal status, female entrepreneurs miss some financial facilitation. For example, they cannot apply for Preferential Trade Tariffs within the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme.

Another issue is women’s low level of education: as of 2018, only about 15% of adult women complete secondary education.

Lastly, cultural norms may prevent women from stepping up to drive their businesses forward. For example, in the typical Cambodian household, women do not have control over their own money because they are considered as “family money”. If for whatever reason their business is not successful, the family blames them for losing the “family money“. In comparison to men doing the same mistakes. women are disproportionately condemned.

Is there a gender gap also in wage employment?

Yes. The gender gap in productive and decent work persists in Cambodia, on many levels. Women are paid less than men. They are subject to the deficits of less available work, more vulnerable work, and the unpaid work burden. They have less access to formal work, wage employment, and therefore to social insurance.

To give an example, women employed in the agriculture sector – which is considered as the largest of women’s employment in Cambodia – own less land in their own name than men. Women are also disadvantaged under the inheritance laws, in the land titling systems, and in their ability to purchase land.

What measures can be taken to encourage gender equality?

If I had to choose one, would be to help women access formal employment. By having a regular job, women could be entitled to protective measures already regulated by the Labour Law in Cambodia, such as social security schemes, paid maternity leave, paid sick leave.

Could you mention any example of equality achieved in Cambodia?

Dr.Ing Kuntha Phavi – who has served as the Minister of Women’s Affairs since 2004 – is a bright example of a successful Cambodian woman. She plays a strategic and active role in supporting the implementation of Cambodia’s national and subnational programs on gender and development. On a personal level, I had the chance to meet several successful Cambodian women in business who are both entrepreneurs and acting as CFO and CEO of important companies.

How do you plan to pursue the issue of gender inclusion and women empowerment as a Eurocham board member and representative of the Italian community with ICBA?

I’d like to encourage both organizations to raise awareness on how to build a more inclusive working environment for women. With Eurocham we launched a series of events aimed at enhancing and inspiring all women. The first one was a webinar “Women’s Business Talk” in February 2021. We invited seven extremely successful Cambodian women to tell their stories and to discuss how to improve the gender balance at work. It was a great way of celebrating the work and achievements of women who are an active part of the business community in the country. We hope that by doing so we can inspire further women to express their full potential.

Please note that the above is simply an overview of the subject matter and it is not, nor is it intended to be, a legal opinion or legal advice. Should you have any questions concerning any of the topics set out above please contact the following email address: [email protected]

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