Women in Cambodia by Sara Monti

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

Sara Monti, Italian lawyer, 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 critical, sometimes even more than what happens in Western countries. Evidence suggests that increasing women’s power over economic resources positively affects society and the economy. Based on a Mckinsey study in 2018, gender equality in Cambodia could increase 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 more significant 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 labor 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 entire 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. But unfortunately, many Cambodian women face immense challenges in advancing their economic opportunities and fail to achieve parity with men in terms of wage, professional treatment, and career advancement. Women continue to experience significant 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, Cambodia does not have any official women’s economic empowerment policy or strategy. As a result, Cambodia’s investment in women’s economic empowerment remains significantly low.

In addition, the country has not sufficiently integrated the gender perspective into the national budgeting agenda. As a result, it leads to slow progress in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the development indicators.

Secondly, women-run businesses are primarily concentrated in the micro-level wholesale and retail trade and services sector. 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 control their own money because they are considered “family money.” If, for whatever reason, their business is not successful, the family blames them for losing the “family money. “ Women are disproportionately condemned, in comparison to men making the same mistakes.

Is there a gender gap also in wage employment?

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

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

What measures can be taken to encourage gender equality?

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 brilliant example of a successful Cambodian woman. She plays a strategic and active role in supporting 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 act as CFO and CEO of relevant 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 want to encourage both organizations to raise awareness on building a more inclusive working environment for women. We hope that 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: montisaraft@gmail.com

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