Women’s Rights in Cambodia
Women in Cambodia make up over 50% of the population but are still fighting for basic rights and gender equality. Cambodian women are struggling to participate politically, socially and economically because the country’s history and cultural traditions frequently value women less than men. Here is some information about women’s rights in Cambodia.

The State of Women’s Rights in Cambodia

Women’s rights in Cambodia have come a long way in the past years, but the country has not completely abolished gender inequalities. Women in Cambodia still struggle with the wage gap, finding opportunities for higher education, gender-based violence and erasing stigmas and stereotypes. Due to these issues, many NGOs have stepped in to help create change and spread awareness.

The Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Cambodia emerged as a country from conflict and unequal power dynamics between sexes. Since 1992, Cambodia has slowly been pushing toward improving women’s rights along with empowering women to exercise their rights. Implementing CEDAW into its constitution was the first step to put Cambodia on the right track.

The Cambodian government ratified CEDAW in article 31.1 of its constitution in 1992. CEDAW, also known as the “Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” is an international treaty protecting women from discrimination. It takes precedence over laws in Cambodia and many consider it a “fundamental legal basis for implementation.” The constitution also includes further efforts to end discrimination against women in article 45.1.

NGO-CEDAW

The implementation of CEDAW led to the creation of NGO-CEDAW in 1995. NGO-CEDAW is a nonprofit organization that ensures the implementation of CEDAW by creating a good relationship with the government and training all Cambodian women on CEDAW. The organization persuaded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to adopt the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims in 2005 and the Anti-tracking law of 2008. NGO-CEDAW also works with the government to “recommend amendments to the domestic violence law.”

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Besides NGO-CEDAW, human rights groups like the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) advocate for women’s rights in Cambodia. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights emerged in 1992 and focuses on two programs; monitoring and protecting, and promotion and advocacy. LICADHO is responsible for investigating human rights violations against women and children by the state, providing medical assistance and social work to victims, monitoring prisons to ensure living stable conditions and providing legal advice and representation to unions and victims. LICADHO also creates public reports about human rights cases to inform the public and educates and informs at-risk youths. LICADO brings reform to a national level by working with other NGOs to influence the government.

The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW)

One in five women in Cambodian report experiencing physical violence since age 15 and half of those women disclosed that they had never told anyone because they believe “there are conditions that justify violence against women.” The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW) promotes the protection of women by educating, training, advocating, researching and working with national and regional networks to address serious issues that are common in Cambodia such as domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. CAMBOW emerged in 2000 and is an alliance of 35 NGOs and networks that participate in activities involving ending violence against women and children, raise awareness on women’s rights through popular media campaigns and coordinate the exchange of information between the 35 NGOs.

The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation has worked in Cambodia for decades, focusing on increasing women’s and girl’s rights and security, creating economic opportunities and advancing women’s involvement in politics and everyday decision making. The Foundation has discovered that helping empower women is one of the best ways to eliminate poverty and increase development. The Foundation works with local organizations and community leaders to create positive change and teach women the skills they need to reach their full potential. Specifically, the Foundation has provided 116 scholarships to young women in poor families to go to college, offered 1,800 victims of trafficking legal and social support and trained 778 officials from the Royal Government of Cambodia on the National Minimum Standards for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Trafficking. The Foundation also creates worldwide networks for female councilors and meets with government representatives to inform them of everyday challenges that women face.

International Women’s Day

On March 8, 2019, five NGOs joined Cambodian women to celebrate International Women’s Day at Olympic Stadium after security forces shut their march down earlier. The Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Women’s Information Center (WIC), The Cambodian Centre for Human rights (CCHR), Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) encouraged all women to come together to highlight women from all classes, ages and sexualities to share their personal stories. The celebration wanted to show the government that Cambodian women are demanding greater respect and representation; specifically asking for new policies and improved living conditions for all women. On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, Cambodian civilizations celebrated by coming together at Democracy Square in Phnom Penh and putting together a fashion show with slogans to promote respect for women’s rights.

Many more NGOs are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority that people respect, uphold and protect. Progress does not occur in one night and as long as these NGOs continue to encourage women to break cultural and social norms, come forward and stand up for themselves, Cambodia as a nation will come to see that men and women are equal.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Pixnio

Education for Children in CambodiaAround 30% of the population in Cambodia lives below the poverty line. Poverty affects children significantly. More than 10% of children in Cambodia do not have access to education and roughly 44.8% (1.52 million) of children aged 5-14 are economically active. Organizations are working to improve access to education for children in Cambodia, especially those living in poverty.

The Prevalence of Child Labor in Cambodia

The reason child labor is so prevalent is that many Cambodian families cannot afford to send their children to school and are in desperate financial circumstances. The costs involved in sending children to school include textbooks, uniforms and transport which families cannot afford. In the rural areas of Siem Reap Province, many people live below the poverty line on less than a dollar each day. As a result, they have to choose between food or education for their children. This forces children to work instead of going to school so they can help support their families.

Lack of education along with insufficient nutrition leaves children developmentally behind. Education is a lifeline for children to rise out of poverty but some children simply cannot afford the luxury of learning.

Rebuilding School’s in Cambodia

Part of the problem is the lack of schools in Cambodia. In the rural areas, there are few schools. One can trace this back to when the Khmer Rouge took control in Cambodia in 1975. Not only did schools close but the buildings either underwent destruction or the government took them over for use.

Many Cambodian teachers and students lost their lives at this time as well because intellectuals posed a threat to the society the Khmer Rouge was trying to create. Roughly 75-90% of teachers, 96% of university students and 67% of all primary and secondary school students died in the massacre that lasted from 1975 to 1979.

Rebuilding has been an essential part of improving Cambodian children’s education, a process that continues to this day. In 2020, the Cambodia International Charity Organization, a Chinese-run NGO, constructed a two-classroom school building for Treap Primary School in a remote village. The school headmaster said the existing school building has been deteriorating, making it difficult for children to learn when it rains.

The Cambodian Children’s Fund

This nonprofit organization emerged in 2004 with the mission of “transforming the lives of the most impoverished, marginalized and neglected children in Cambodia through high-quality education, leadership training and direct support programs.” The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) works on the ground directly with children who are the most affected by poverty most effects and its programs have positively impacted the education of many impoverished Cambodian children.

In 2019, 1,855 children enrolled in programs that the CCF offered. The pass rate for students taking their grade 12 exams who had involvement with the organization was 84% in comparison to the nation’s 67%. The program also saw 33 university graduates in 2019, marking a total of 84 CCF graduates who have moved on from the program as successful young adults.

Sophy’s Story

Sophy Ron is one of the many people the Cambodian Children’s Fund has helped. Sophy was 11 years old when the organization found her. She did not go to school and made a living selling items she could salvage from a landfill site. After the Cambodian Children’s Fund took her in and sponsored her, Sophy was able to pursue an education. In 2019, Sophy completed her first year of university after earning a scholarship to Trinity College at the University of Melbourne in Australia and gave the valedictorian speech for the graduating class of 2019.

While education is a key factor to help children like Sophy rise out of poverty, without the opportunities and resources available to impoverished families, education remains out of reach. Organizations like the Cambodian Children’s Fund and the Cambodia International Charity Organization make education for children in Cambodia a priority, ensuring that the cycle of poverty can break.

Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Improving education in CambodiaCambodia has come a long way in eliminating poverty. From 2007 to 2014, Cambodia’s poverty rate decreased by about 30% and it is now a middle-income country. However, one pressing issue that continues to trouble the country is access to education, particularly for those living in extreme poverty and rural areas. The good news is that several organizations are improving education in Cambodia by increasing access and tackling obstacles head-on.

Cambodian Children’s Fund

The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) works in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s Stung Meanchey district. Though the organization’s focus is on improving education in Cambodia, CCF starts by providing basic needs to the families living in the highly impoverished area that was once a dumping ground. This meant building suitable shelters and homes for families living in makeshift tents.

Once CCF helped provide essentials, the focus turned toward providing stable education for children, while their parents scavenged the junkyard to earn whatever income they could. Children that started in extreme poverty were now attending primary school through high school due to CCF. In 15 years, CCF provided education for more than 3000 children, and of those that started early in the program, nearly 70% were attending college.

Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE)

French expatriates Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, created PSE when the couple traveled to Cambodia and noticed the number of children experiencing extreme poverty. The couple spent two decades advocating for children living in poverty in Cambodia, commuting between there and Europe.

Initially starting in Phnom Penh, PSE now has more than 6000 students benefitting from the organization’s projects throughout Cambodia, including more rural areas near Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. PSE provides everything from food to healthcare and enrolls children in state or corrective schools depending on their needs. Cambodia’s Ministry of Education has noticed success in PSE’s remedial schools. The PSE approach, now utilized by the government, will be improving education in Cambodia for 6000 children per annum.

Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN)

In 2014, KHEN changed direction from being a health education organization to highlight children’s rights. Now, KHEN is a large-scale NGO focused on improving education in Cambodia’s rural Battambang province for traditionally unprotected children, including those with disabilities, girls, minorities and children living in extreme poverty.

KHEN operates in more than 100 schools, most of which were built by the group, and serves more than 10,000 children. It has a long-term focus on education while also protecting children from human trafficking and poor health. Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, KHEN acted swiftly to modify its schools to be open-air and socially distanced, with sanitation stations. Teachers and volunteers received education on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and home-learning tactics changed as well.

Cambodian Community Dream Organization

The Cambodian Community Dream Organization (CCDO) was founded by U.S citizen, Jenni Lipa, who exclusively worked on building water wells in the rural areas around Siem Reap. Now, CCDO improves lives by providing sanitary services, health programs and extensive education systems. CCDO keeps costs low by using local and international volunteers and local paid staff.

There are three schools CCDO operates in, centered on English learning. CCDO offers a schooling experience like most developed countries, with physical education, libraries, playgrounds, arts and crafts and computer workshops. Children enrolled in the programs are particularly fond of the library. CCDO also provides early childhood education programs and gives students who excel in their classes opportunities for high school and university scholarships.

People Improvement Organization

Since 2002, the People Improvement Organization (PIO) has operated in poverty-stricken areas of Phnom Penh. Phymean Noun, a native Cambodian, believed the children scrounging through junk piles to make a living deserved a chance to achieve their dreams. The decision she made was to improve education in Cambodia in order to end child poverty.

PIO believes in providing high-quality education to all children in need. All students attend PIO schools voluntarily, but PIO provides clothes, food, clean water, full social care and health services. Many children who scavenged through junkyards to survive have been pulled out of poverty and are now attending PIO high schools and even university.

NGOs have helped reduce child poverty in Cambodia through better access and improvements in education. The low costs in Cambodia allow new organizations to form rapidly and successfully. Through similar philanthropic efforts toward improving education in Cambodia, child poverty can be successfully combated.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

Green Shoots Foundation is Fighting Poverty
Founded in 2010, the Green Shoots Foundation has been working toward poverty relief through holistic and sustainable development programs. An additional focus on bolstering economies and education helps empower the areas of Africa and Asia the foundation specializes in. The Green Shoots Foundation is fighting poverty by using accountability and transparency to achieve its goals. It organizes its missions into three particular programming areas:

  • Education Loans & Social Entrepreneurship (ELSE): This programming area works to enhance children’s education by promoting education in urban slums, fighting against the gender education gap and promoting social enterprises and urban entrepreneurship.
  • Food, Agriculture & Social Entrepreneurship (FASE): The ultimate objective in this programming area is to revitalize rural communities through agricultural training, sustainable gardens and social enterprise missions.
  • Medical Assistance & Medical Education (MAME): This programming area combats HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. MAME works with HIV professionals to transfer medical knowledge to locals and improve treatment accessibility.

The Food, Agriculture & Social Entrepreneurship Sector (FASE)

The Food, Agriculture & Social Entrepreneurship sector (FASE) of the Green Shoots Foundation is fighting poverty by working to restimulate rural economies through teaching sustainable agricultural skills and supporting business development.

Specific objectives characterize the goals of FASE and how they plan on improving the development in rural areas. These include:

  • Addressing a lack of education in the countryside
  • Promoting sustainable farming techniques
  • Addressing a lack of social capital in the countryside
  • Promoting rural entrepreneurship

FASE in the Philippines and Cambodia

FASE has completed notable work in the Philippines and Cambodia. In the Philippines, it is working to promote business opportunities for food and agriculture, as well as implement social innovation platforms such as the Enchanted Farm. The Enchanted Farm works to stimulate economic growth in different areas and simultaneously fight against poverty and food insecurity. Work in the Philippines has resulted in six-month long volunteer missions to help two different businesses that the Enchanted Farm is developing. In Cambodia, work has focused around horticulture education and environmental sustainability; 2014 proved to be a prominent year in FASE’s work as it implemented the Agricultural Skills in Public Schools (ASPUS) Project. Then, in 2018, the Agri-tech Training Center took the spotlight as the primary location for rural development and certified horticulture education in northwest Cambodia.

The Agri-tech Training Center

The Agri-tech Training Center serves as a community learning center that offers both training areas and demonstrations connected to rural development. These lessons have the intention of benefitting the public’s knowledge on agriculture. The center offers workshops on microfinance, nutrition and food growing. The center hopes to provide access to sustainable farming practices, improve the application of rural development skills in an ecofriendly way and enhance the capacity of young farmers for enterprise development. The organization also partners with five different local companies in North West Cambodia to help bolster its economy and build meaningful connections in the community. Each year, the center targets to train at least 200 local, young students. The Agri-tech Training Center advocates that training these young people will lead to local problem solving and increase entrepreneurship in the rural area.

The Green Shoots Foundation is fighting poverty through its work helping rural communities develop their economies through food and agriculture, education and medical aid. FASE’s vocational training staff at the Agri-tech Training Center has been working tirelessly to educate those in North West Cambodia on how to better themselves and their communities. Through the work of this foundation, people living in impoverished areas are able to combat hunger and bring themselves out of generational poverty.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Cambodia
Period poverty affects women and girls around the globe who cannot afford safe, sanitary products or are unable to receive information about safe period practices due to stigma. Poor period hygiene can lead to many health risks, such as urinary tract infections and reproductive infections. About 50% of the people in Cambodia are women, but people do not talk about period poverty as they deem it a taboo subject.

As of 2019, the poverty rate in Cambodia was 12.9%. However, this number is expected to increase to around 20% due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rise in the poverty rate will leave millions of women and girls vulnerable. Here are five facts regarding period poverty in Cambodia.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Girls are often in shock when they get their first period. Periods in Cambodia are known as “mokrodou” or the coming season. Notably, many public schools do not teach health education or menstrual hygiene. Cambodians view periods as dirty, which makes menstruation a taboo subject within the country. Consequently, mothers pass down information to daughters, which causes the following of cultural, instead of medical norms. Girls may not shower during their period to keep their skin clean. Parents also forbid girls from swimming for fear they will dirty the water. Finally, parents forbid these girls from eating certain foods believed to disrupt the menstrual cycle.
  2. Of schools in Cambodia, 50% do not have a reliable water supply. In addition to not having reliable water, 33% of schools do not have latrines. Period poverty in Cambodia greatly affects girls in school. Even if girls learn about sanitary period practices, it is difficult to maintain sanitation when schools do not have water or toilets. UNICEF has found that a lack of sanitation facilities can increase a girl’s likelihood to skip school during their period. While at school, girls do not have access to clean, sanitary pads or private facilities to properly dispose of products. Therefore, they prefer to use a toilet and have privacy at home.
  3. Most people cannot afford proper sanitary pads. The national poverty line is $0.93 per person, per day. In Cambodia, a pack of six sanitary pads costs around $3 and they are often difficult to find. Consequently, girls and women often use rags for days at a time instead of sanitary products. This, in turn, often leads to infections, which left untreated can cause permanent health problems, like infertility.
  4. Some schools have implemented menstruation education programs. Snor Khley primary school has recognized the issue of period poverty in Cambodia. It has begun to implement menstrual health management classes to help students better manage their periods. The class encourages both boys and girls to talk openly about menstrual health to destigmatize the subject. The school has also introduced new, hygienic school facilities for girls to practice safe hygiene. Additionally, the school distributes the “Growth and Changes Booklet,” which discusses puberty, to all students. The book has helped more than 122,000 students gain a better understanding of the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty.
  5. Reusable Maxi Pads are emerging as sanitary alternatives. Sovanvotey Hok started a business called Green Lady, which makes environmentally friendly and affordable menstrual products. Apart from making affordable products, the business also employs local housewives to make the products. The reusable pads last up to three years and 1,850 pads have been sold. Green Lady’s product prevents the use of about 96,000 disposable pads, most of which contain noxious materials such as bleach.

An End to Period Poverty

Period poverty in Cambodia is a threat to women’s health as unsanitary period practices lead to infections. Period poverty also affects women’s ability to receive an education as many schools do not have the proper facilities to support menstruating girls. However, as the use of reusable period products becomes more mainstream and continued education and programs in schools develop — hopefully, the stigma surrounding periods will come to an end.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Cambodia
A shocking 30% of the Cambodian population lives under the poverty line, affecting children most of all. The under-5 mortality rate in Cambodia sits at 25% due to the extreme poverty they live in. Here is some information about child poverty in Cambodia.

Malnutrition and Education

Children in Cambodia face malnutrition from conception due to many women experiencing malnourishment while pregnant. Malnutrition occurs when women do not have the right care during their pregnancy. Limited resources in Cambodia contribute to the issue of women not being able to obtain the necessary care to stay healthy during pregnancy. This absence of nutrition does not end once children are born either. If a baby does not receive post-natal care or proper nutrition in their first couple of months, it can lead to stunting in growth or even death.

On top of that, more than 10% of Cambodian children currently do not go to school. Instead of getting a substantial education, around 45% of children age 5 to 14 partake in labor instead. Though the situation appears dismal for the children of Cambodia, people across the globe are working on solving common problems circling child poverty in Cambodia.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has intimate ties to poverty in Cambodia. The four main factors that lead to human trafficking today include mass displacement, conflict, extreme poverty and lack of access to education and jobs. It is extremely common for parents to sell their children to human traffickers or for traffickers to lure children with the prospect of a legitimate job, only for them to enter prostitution. When short on money to provide for their families, parents may sell their daughters’ virginity, as it can give them up to 20 times their household average income a week.

The Rapha House is an organization dedicated to rehabilitating young girls after rescuing them from human trafficking. It started in 2003 after the founder spoke to Cambodian leaders about the threat of human trafficking to Cambodian girls. The organization opened two houses in Cambodia: Battambang and Siem Rep. Each aftercare campus gives child survivors of slavery and sexual exploitation the chance to reclaim their lost childhood. Survivors are treated with love and value instead of abuse and neglect. Volunteers at the houses teach morals and self-love to these girls daily, in hopes of healing them from their trauma.

Educating Children

Though the initial percentages of student enrollment in Cambodia were low, presence in the classroom is rising significantly. The number of children enrolling in primary education increased to over 97% during the 2017-2018 school year. Enrollment had limitations prior due to the need for manual labor in family businesses. Children worked with, or for, their parents to help earn a livable income.

ChildFund has been working on improving education in Cambodia through fundraising since 2007 and has no plans to stop any time soon. Its official website says that helping children living in poverty fulfill their potential through education is one of its top priorities in the country of Cambodia. The funds raised go directly to helping eliminate child poverty in Cambodia allowing donors to sponsor a child and help pay for their education. Education is key in ending the cycle of poverty. Once people learn essential skills, they can go on to get better jobs and make more money.

Helping the Hungry

The national prevalence of under-5 stunting is 32.4%, which is greater than the developing country average of 25% according to the Global Nutrition Report. Cambodia also struggles with an under-5 wasting prevalence of 9.8%, which surpasses the normal developing country average significantly. Malnutrition in children and their mothers during pregnancy causes this stunting. Child poverty in Cambodia often occurs when children lack the proper amount of food per day to remain healthy. If their bodies have no nutrition, they will not have the energy to grow, causing growth stunts.

Action Against Hunger, an activist group aiming to improve all-around nutrition on a global level, has been taking strides to lower Cambodia’s under-5 statistics. Over the course of 2019, the organization created 5,310 community groups focused on increasing food security through rice banks, farming and home gardens. It also helped 7,139 people reach nutrition and health programs and 6,278 people gain access to food security programs. Action Against Hunger says that it has helped 15,744 people total in Cambodia during 2019.

Alleviating child poverty in Cambodia requires more work, but these organizations show that it is possible to improve the situation. Rapha House, ChildFund and Action Against Hunger are all taking huge steps to help eliminate child poverty in Cambodia whether it be through donations, fieldwork or volunteering.

– Kendall Little
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in CambodiaOfficially, Cambodia is a democratic nation with legislation in place to protect women from domestic violence and trafficking. Cambodia’s economic development and restructuring of its government that creates such protections for women cannot be ignored considering its very recent history of a devastating genocide that destroyed almost all state and private institutions. Despite this transformation and progress for Cambodian women, they still do not receive the same rights, access and protections as their male counterparts. Here are seven of the most important things to know about the current state of women’s rights in Cambodia.

7 Things to Know about Women’s Rights in Cambodia

  1. The Positives: The literacy rate for adult women increased from 57% to 75% between 1998 and 2015. Women also own 61% of businesses in Cambodia even though they make up only about 51% of the population.

  2. Representation: The percentage of women in politics has increased dramatically since Cambodia rebuilt itself in the 1990s, but women still hold less than 20% of positions. Women only make up about 14% of Cambodia’s judges and 20% of its lawyers.

  3. Sex Trafficking: A 2018 Global slavery index reported that Cambodia has over 260,000 victims of human and sex trafficking. The capital city of Phnom Penh is home to almost 20,000 prostitutes, many of whom are underage. One rescue organization claims that 40% of victims they worked with were minors. Virginity is sold for $800, which is more than 20 times the weekly wage, according to UNICEF, leaving poor families with impossible choices. Lack of enforcement for this practice is suspected to be a result of law enforcement’s connections with brothels.

  4. Domestic Violence: According to U.N. reports, one in five women ages 15 to 49 in Cambodia experiences physical violence. Migrant workers and sex workers are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence. Women with disabilities are also more at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. Despite this systemic issue, one national human rights group reported in 2017 that because domestic violence isn’t considered a criminal offense in many Cambodian courts most women drop complaints or do not press charges at all. From 2014 to 2016 only about 20% of national domestic violence cases were being monitored. Also, although acid attacks are illegal now, Cambodian women still fall victim annually and the Human Rights Watch calls for more protections.

  5. The Chbap Srey: The “law for women” or a set of rules taught to girls by their female family members, or even in schools, is based on a poem by male poet Krom Ngoy that has been recited for hundreds of years. The poem, which includes instructions for how to respect one’s husband and places boys’ education over girls’, is still regarded as the basic foundation of gender roles in Cambodia. Until 2007 it was part of the national curriculum, but many schools, having only removed some of the rules, continue to teach it to boys and girls. One critical aspect of this rulebook is it encourages women to not speak about the inner workings of a home and a marriage to the outside world. Both the U.N. and other women’s’ rights groups have spoken out against the Chbap Srey for perpetrating domestic violence.

  6.  The Law on Public Order: In 2019 a national legislation draft was introduced that could allow police to fine or arrest women who are dressed “inappropriately” in public spaces. The law would police how modest or “see-through” women’s’ clothes are and prevent men from going merely without a shirt. The law is responding to state officials complaining that women are using sexy clothes to sell products online. The prime minister said this goes against traditional Cambodian values and traditions. One minister spoke in favor of the legislature to media outlets and claimed that “it is good to wear something no shorter than the middle of the thigh” and that the law is “not entirely a matter of public order, it’s a matter of tradition and custom”. While provincial officials have responded with support for this law, women’s rights groups vehemently reject it. They challenge the oppressive aspects of traditional dress and culture and argue that legalizing the policing of women’s outfits will normalizing the blaming of domestic and sexual violence victims rather than the perpetrators.

As Cambodia makes major development strides and women contribute to its emerging economy and reject their imposed inferiority, they face pushback from a culture grappling with its own traditions. A lack of support and transparency also prevents women from speaking out about abuse. But more and more women are being educated and fighting for each other each year. Representation in politics for Cambodian women is higher than ever. Alongside international organizations, they are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority and end the predatory systems of sex trafficking.

– Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Women Leaders in Cambodia
Cambodia is a Southeastern Asian country bordering Laos and Thailand with a population of over 16 million. The people of Cambodia have struggled in recovering from immense losses caused by the rule of the Khmer Rouge government from 1975-1979. Despite its challenges, Cambodia has made incredible strides in decreasing poverty rates and enhancing its economy. From 2007-2014, the percentage of the population living under the national poverty line decreased by 34.3%. Despite the country’s successes, the people of Cambodia realize they must unite and put in their best efforts to achieve national prosperity. Behind the scenes, remarkable women leaders in Cambodia are continuing their country’s fight against poverty.

Khong Sokin and Oxfam America

Rural areas in Cambodia account for the majority of populations living in the highest rates of poverty. One of these areas is near the Mekong River in Rogniev Island, where two long-time friends and neighbors are making a difference in their community. In 2019, Chris, an Oxfam America member, interviewed the two women – Tep Srey Neang and Khong Sokin. Srey Neang leads a youth group with the primary goal of promoting efficient utilization of her community’s limited natural resources. By supporting decent management of their resources, the farming and fishing industry in her neighboring areas will greatly improve. With success, Neang and her group can boost the socioeconomic status of families and the agriculture industry of the rural areas surrounding the Mekong River.

Khong Sokin has worked closely with Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization with the goal of alleviating global poverty. Together, they have aided women in Sokin’s surrounding areas by providing educational sessions on cultivation and agriculture. Sokin is aware agricultural knowledge is valuable for Cambodia’s economy and for the prosperity of their future generations. Furthermore, Oxfam and Sokin have empowered the women of their community to find their voices and to speak out, and the men are listening. Members of the community have recognized they could not fully thrive without supporting their women as well. This inclusivity has led to a female holding the position of the village assistant chief and four other female members on the community fishery committee. Srey Neang and Khong Sokin are just two fine examples of women leaders in Cambodia cultivating the future for their country.

Women-Led Organization in Battambang and Siem Reap

In the Battambang and Siem Reap provinces in Cambodia, there is a women-led organization supporting the most impoverished, vulnerable women across five rural districts. The program received support from the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality and started in 2016. The local NGO offers valuable training sessions for women to gain skills in agricultural techniques. For example, members have learned how to use non-chemical fertilizers, raise chickens and pigs, properly grow vegetables and use other farming techniques. As of 2017, out of the 100 women that have worked with the organization, about a third increased their incomes by 50%. In addition to personal financial benefits, the organization is empowering and supporting women, which promotes Cambodia’s resources and enhances the country’s economy.

Vannary San and Lotus Silk

Expanding outside of the farming sphere, Vannary San is a Cambodian fashion designer and the founder of the company Lotus Silk. After the Khmer Rouge, the culture’s fine silk industry was almost entirely destroyed. Vannary has worked towards reintroducing and promoting Cambodia’s silk, while also supporting impoverished communities in Cambodia. In every single step of production, Vannary ensures to support the most marginalized women of Cambodia. She supports rural Cambodian silk farmers by utilizing their silk for her clothing production. Vannary is committed to employing only impoverished Cambodian women and provides benefits, accommodations, decent working hours and safe working conditions. In addition, Vannary offers internships for local college students and encourages student members of Global Children Cambodia to apply for jobs with her company. Vannary San has single-handedly revived Cambodia’s silk culture and has inspired others to become women leaders in Cambodia through her preservation and entrepreneurship.

These are only a few stories of the amazing work several women in Cambodia are accomplishing. It is important to celebrate these stories and to acknowledge that there are people quietly working in the background to help others. Cambodia has faced major turmoil and devastation, but these women provide hope and inspiration for the country’s future. Not only are they fighting poverty and improving the economy, but they are also empowering people to join women leaders in Cambodia.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

jewelry rebuilds economy in cambodiaCambodian artisans are turning the same brass once used to murder into a symbol of peace and resilience, a stand against the violence that once overtook their country. Artisanry and design have deep roots in Cambodian history. However, the Khmer Rouge destroyed centuries of creative artifacts and left Cambodia’s economy in shambles. Cambodia is now littered with bombshell casings from the Khmer Rouge-led Cambodian genocide, the Vietnam War and a bombing ordered by former U.S. president Richard Nixon. But jewelers are reclaiming their nation through craft, turning these casings into beautiful pieces of jewelry as a stand against the violence that overtook their country. Their jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces poverty along with it.

What Was the Cambodian Genocide?

April 17, 1975 marks the dark day that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began destroying the Cambodian people. Pot’s goal was to rebuild Cambodia in the image of Mao’s communist model in China. However, this led to the murder of an estimated two to three million people in the historic Killing Fields. Between the murders and thousands of starvation deaths, 25% of the Cambodian population died in three years.

This loss devastated the country’s creativity culture, leaving a mere 10% of artists alive. The Khmer Rouge also banned all creative art forms that did not politically benefit them. In addition, the regime destroyed all of Cambodia’s cultural traditions. In order to rebuild the country, its people have looked to the arts.

Rajana Association of Cambodia: Jewelry Rebuilds the Economy in Cambodia

Local jewelers collect pieces of mines, bombs and bullets and upcycle them into beautifully cut brass rings, necklaces and bracelets. They also work with a Cambodian organization that trains people how to properly remove old landmines so that the jewelers can use the material. Rajana jewelers pride themselves on preserving Cambodian style and culture by staying away from Western designs. This not only demonstrates the artisans’ pride in their country’s culture but also their attempt to replenish the art destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Rajana Association of Cambodia began in 1995 as a project under a UK-based NGO, Cambodia Action, which employed young Cambodian refugees at a camp in Thailand. It became its own independent company in 2003 and has since grown into a prominent and successful organization in Cambodia and worldwide. As such, its jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia while preserving its culture.

By successfully expanding their company, the leaders of Rajana have also transformed the lives of their jeweler partners. With an outlet to work from home, the artisans make a living wage while caring for their families. Rajana also established several shops across the country solely run by Cambodian staff in order to sell the products. This income has helped send children to school, provide food for their families and purchase transportation.

Artisans Help Economies Grow

Artisan work has played a crucial role in opening the economy in post-conflict Cambodia to the global market. This rise in jewelry work has not only helped revive Cambodian tradition but also promoted commerce, trade and employment. Cambodia’s GDP has grown to $27 billion in 2019 from $588 million just before in the genocide in 1974. Jewelry manufacturing has contributed $4.8 million to the country’s GDP and employed over 3,500 people, making it a leading factor in the economy’s sustainable development. What began as a way to revive cultural traditions after the genocide has proven to be a driving component in changing the course of Cambodia’s history: the country’s poverty rate has continued to fall as employment rates rise, and is now at about 13% as of 2014 compared to almost 50% in 2007. Thus, jewelry both rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces the poverty its citizens face.

Beautiful Jewelry Reduces Poverty

Several fair trade shops sell Rajana products online, including Ten Thousand Villages and Oxfam. These shops pay their artisans fair prices for their products, thus helping them establish better lives for themselves and their families. It is incredibly important to support international artisans. This fair trade keeps not only their economies alive but also their culture and history. In all, this jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia through cultural preservation, resilience and creativity.

– Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr