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

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

Cricket Farming
Vendors in bustling Cambodian markets often advertise their wares including dragonfruit, vegetables, freshwater fish and crickets. Since the 1970s, crickets have evolved from being a nutritious but cheap “hunger food” to a Cambodian diet staple. Cambodia traditionally suffers from high levels of malnutrition, with almost 80% of children lacking sufficient nutrients. However, as a result of cricket farming, crickets offer a surprising remedy containing protein, amino acids and micronutrients in each crunchy bite.

The Steps to Farming Crickets

Cricket farms consist of large concrete block pens. They contain large populations of crickets and even produce about 25 to 30 kilograms of insects per cell. Depending on farm size, there can be as many as 100 block pens on one farm. Pens are usually covered with mosquito netting to contain and protect the insect livestock. Inside the cells is the cricket’s bedding of layered rice husks or egg cartons.

The most expensive cost of cricket farming is feed. Crickets require high protein animal feed, commonly chicken feed. However, before harvesting the crickets, their diet changes from feed to fruits and vegetables. This is a less expensive feeding option and also improves the taste of the insects.

The breeding process within the pens is also relatively simple. As soon as the male crickets can stridulate, or make the characteristic chirp associated with the insect, they can breed. Cricket farmers then place bowls of sandy mixtures in the pen where females lay their eggs. Farmers patiently wait for one to two weeks to give females adequate time to lay their eggs before removing the bowls and transferring them to a new pen. They wait for the crickets to hatch and mature, which takes about 45 days, before starting the process over again. Cricket farming is a simple process with low overhead costs. Farmers can begin production with limited resources and grow from their profits.

Angka Changrit Kampuchea

Angka Changrit Kampuchea (ACK), which translates to Cambodian Cricket Farming Organization, sees cricket farming as a crucial solution to Cambodia’s poverty and hunger problems. ACK’s headquarters are in Cambodia’s capital, where they support micro livestock farmers in need. The organization provides education about insect agriculture. It also provides supplies to help farmers start insect herds.

Giving struggling farmers the tools and knowledge to farm crickets provides two crucial elements to the end of their poverty. These elements are sustainable food and sustainable income. The farmers can feed their families with their livestock and then sell the remaining product for profit. Furthermore, ACK recognizes the environmental benefits of cricket farming. It requires fewer resources, takes up less space, and emits fewer greenhouse gases than other protein production like poultry.

A Tasty Solution

To make fried crickets, one needs a tablespoon of salt, two tablespoons of sugar and some umami followed by a dash of water. Then, add flour and mix to create a frying batter. Dip the crickets in the batter then throw them in the frying pan to sizzle. The resulting cricket retains its crunchy shell with a smooth texture on the inside. Fried crickets line the streets of Cambodian markets and offer the perfect protein to any dish. The food provides more than just taste. It is stuffed with nutrients to improve the health of Cambodia’s malnourished population and provides employment and income to impoverished farmers. The six-legged creatures are becoming the new face of poverty reduction in the nation.

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Wikipedia

Cambodian art
Worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted many countries and peoples’ daily lives. While not all countries have been affected in the same manner due to their respective population demographics, economies, etc. — places with a contained outbreak are far from lucky. As of the beginning of July 2020, Cambodia has had 141 confirmed cases of the new virus and zero deaths; possessing one of the world’s most desirable records for disease containment. However, citizens canceled many gatherings and traditions due to the constant spread of the new virus, in order to stave off the increasing numbers of infected. In a country filled with culture and art, postponing annual festivals poses a significant threat to society — both from an emotional and economic standpoint. As a result, many long-standing art troupes are facing closures and this, in turn, is negatively affecting the Cambodian art industry.

A Brief History

In the past, Cambodia faced a difficult battle with its culture. The country underwent a prolonged civil war and genocidal regime, forcing many traditional forms of Cambodian culture to the brink of vanishing. In addition to the political stress on the art industry, many artists faced financial struggles and gave up their passions in return for a stable outcome. Although the Cambodian arts encountered numerous obstacles, certain traditions have outlasted these struggles. Albeit, the impact of COVID-19 stands to be the most difficult obstacle for these troupes yet.

Kok Thlok Association of Artists

One of the most popular forms of Cambodian art is through traditional shadow puppet plays. Kok Thlok Association of Artists is a group of artists that includes a majority of French nationals performing this art form. Since March of 2019, this troupe has been entertaining the public by putting on shadow puppet plays (also known as a Sbek Touch) and Yike (a Cambodian art form of Khmer musical theatre). They perform these traditional art forms to showcase and instill their culture into the younger generation and earn income for the artists. With theatre being their primary source of income and the new virus spreading, no performances occur, which in turn prevents these artists from earning their wages.

A Drastic Decrease in Income

Soon after the discovery of Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case in January of 2020, the government ordered the temporary shutdown of places such as schools, museums and cinemas. The government canceled public events, including art performances and heavily encouraged people to refrain from gathering in crowds. As a result, the Kok Thlok Association of Artists was unable to perform and gain income. With this drastic decrease in income, these artists are finding it difficult to feed themselves and pay for expenses like rent. Even in these severe circumstances, however, the association is still committed to preserving the art form.

Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus

In addition to collecting revenue from Cambodian residents, many art performances have a large following of tourists. Due to the new virus, tourism has halted — which has consequently impacted many other industries and companies as well. The Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian circus is popular for its ability to combine the Cambodian art of storytelling effectively and artistically with dance, music and other forms of performing arts; the circus is a very popular tourist attraction. With almost no tourist arrivals, establishments like the Phare circus have been deeply affected. The effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the economy and the tourism industry, meaning that entertainers and artists will remain in this situation for some time.

With most of the artists’ primary and part-time jobs lost, many participants are attempting to stay above the poverty line by moving to cheaper areas and by selling goods. In addition to their dire circumstances, there is the aforementioned cultural battle in Cambodia which leaves local residents unable or unwilling to provide monetary support. Apart from monetary issues, these performances helped artists from challenging backgrounds to put aside their problems and focus on the art form. Now, with their primary outlet of expression gone, many artists are facing both financial and emotional problems.

An Adaptive Look to the Future

While these artists are managing to barely stay afloat, many theatres are unable to do so. The long-standing Sovanna Phum Theatre — a shadow puppet theatre that blends puppetry with traditional Khmer dance — closed down in May 2020. However, the ministry provides alternate ways for these artists to make money, e.g. through media outlets and other online platforms. In fact, The Sovanna Phum Theatre relocated to the School of Fine Arts. Although their performances are online and difficult for the performers to adjust to — the government has provided them with a temporary solution. It is unknown how long this solution will last, but the Cambodian artists hope for the best and pray that COVID-19 does not hurt their chances of performing in the future.

– Aditi Prasad
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Disability and Poverty in Cambodia
Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a country with a troubled recent history. Just 50 years ago this small nation experienced a genocide estimated to have killed a quarter of its population. Neither the country nor its people emerged unscathed. Cambodia’s high poverty rate, poor healthcare infrastructure and landmine-laden countryside have spelled significant consequences for Cambodia’s disabled population. In order to better understand this issue, it’s essential to examine the intersection of disability and poverty in Cambodia.

Disability and Poverty in Cambodia

In general, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. There are various reasons for this, the most significant a decreased earning capacity for this community. Another reason is the higher costs associated with achieving the same standard of living as non-disabled persons. In addition, the former problem is largely due to unequal access to education and discriminatory hiring practices. For example, practices like disability-specific expenses, medication and assistive devices.

In Cambodia, the rate of poverty among households with at least one disabled member is 18%. However, this number doesn’t account for the additional costs associated with disability. The incorporation of which experts say raises the rate to 34%. This is more than double the national rate of 13.5%. Furthermore, it’s estimated that only 44% of children with disabilities have completed primary school in Cambodia, compared to 73% of their non-disabled counterparts. This gap only widens as the level of education increases. Moreover, in 2010, the Cambodian government mandated that the workforce of public institutions should include 2% of disabled persons by 2013. However, even as late as 2016, this figure had only reached 1.3%.

Prevalence of Disability in Cambodia

Population surveys in Cambodia over the past decade have estimated the percent of disabled persons in the country to range from 2% to 9.5%. This can be compared with the rate of disability of the world at large, which the World Health Organization estimates to be 15%. Moreover, the variance in the percentages for Cambodia is largely due to differences in how disability is defined for census and data-gathering purposes. In general, it is difficult to acquire accurate population data in developing countries. Therefore, the figures that emerge are the best estimate. Data on disability rates among Cambodian children are somewhat more reliable. A study by UNICEF found that approximately 10% of children in the country have some form of disability, with speech and cognitive impairments being among the most common.

Factors Contributing to Prevalence

The conditions created by poverty and accidental landmine explosions are some of the most significant factors contributing to Cambodia’s disability rate. Poverty can be as much a determining factor of disability as a repercussion of it. Studies by the World Health Organization shows a strong relationship between malnutrition – a common consequence of poverty – and both disability and developmental delays. Given that one in three children in Cambodia is malnourished, the country’s high rate of childhood disability is unfortunately unsurprising. Furthermore, Cambodia has made truly remarkable strides in clearing the landmines that once littered its countryside. However, accidental detonations of these buried explosives have resulted in over 45,000 injuries and amputations in the years following 1980. Consequently, Cambodia has the highest number of amputees per capita in the world.

Obstacles to Improvement

Many of these obstacles seem to fall under one of two categories: physical infrastructure and policy enforcement. Even in urban centers, there are few physical accommodations for disabled people. Cambodia doesn’t provide accessibility measures for its most vulnerable citizens, from wheelchair ramps to auditory crosswalk signals. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, for example, there are reportedly only 15 public restrooms that are disability-friendly. Additionally, public transportation is difficult to use – if not actively dangerous – for disabled Cambodians. This is due to limited adherence to traffic laws and the poor state of public roads.

Interestingly, a lack of legislation concerning the rights of disabled Cambodians isn’t among the country’s problems. The government of Cambodia has put out numerous mandates and decrees that help citizens with disabilities. This covers everything from the monthly pension that citizens with disabilities are due, to penalties for businesses that don’t hire enough disabled individuals. The problem is that these laws go largely unenforced. A study found that only 4% of disabled Cambodians received their government benefits. In addition, employees of the government agencies meant to enforce certain regulations don’t even know how to file a claim against violators.

Looking to the Future

Although there’s certainly much progress to be made, a number of NGOs and non-profits work to solve the issue of disability and poverty in Cambodia. The NGOs and non-profits are working to better the living standards and lives of Cambodians with disabilities. One, in particular, doing extraordinary work is the Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living (PPCIL).

In 2009, Cambodians with disabilities founded this NGO. This organization seeks to empower people with severe disabilities. In addition, PPCIL wants to empower people with disabilities to live independently by providing basic education and vocational training. It also assists in identifying housing units and employment opportunities with access for the disabled. The PPCIL promotes the rights of disabled Cambodians. In addition, the NGO works to provide them with the equipment, training and personal assistance they need to live independently and with dignity. The center’s most recent project is collecting donated masks and other protective-wear for members of its community in response to COVID-19.

The Cambodian government recently released a National Disability Strategic Plan for 2019-2023. This plan intends to further address such issues as those covered in this article. This plan will improve livelihoods for Cambodia’s disabled community.

Gennaveve Brizendine
Photo: Flickr

asian development bankThe Asian Development Bank (ADB), which was established in 1966, attempts to alleviate poverty in Asia by funding numerous welfare projects in the region. Many Asian countries are members of ADB, which provides them with loans and monetary assistance, as well as providing general technical help with different projects. ADB aims to achieve “a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.” Here are four countries that ADB has benefited positively.

4 Countries the Asian Development Bank Has Helped

  1. China: The People’s Republic of China is a country that has experienced uneven development in the past century. Major cities are urbanized, while rural areas remain in extreme poverty. ADB has funded and overseen numerous projects to attempt to lift these areas out of poverty and improve the standard of living in the country. One project in Yunnan, for example, pays and trains women to maintain around 5,000 kilometers of rural roads. This offers economic opportunities to rural women while facilitating more transportation between rural towns. Another project funded the purchase of 1,860 clean buses to combat China’s pollution problem.
  2. Cambodia: While Cambodia has undergone positive development in recent years, poverty still exists in the country, and many of its residents live in adverse conditions. In 2017, for example, 21% of the Cambodian population did not have access to clean water. The Asian Development Bank has encouraged sustainable development in Cambodia through many large-scale projects. In 2003, the bank allotted $15.6 million to Cambodia as part of a project to attract tourists and benefit local economies. More recently, ADB approved a loan of $250 million to support Cambodia’s economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Thailand: In recent years, poverty has unfortunately increased in Thailand, with the poverty rate growing from 7.8% in 2015 to 9.8% in 2018. According to the World Bank, this has been due to several “economic and environmental challenges,” particularly because individual Thai households are highly susceptible to variable economic conditions. Projects by ADB attempt to combat this—one 2017 program introduced around 500 farmers to the organic farming market. This connected them to a greater, more profitable market in order to attain a self-sufficient income. In 2012, a solar power plant funded by ADB was also completed, which generated enough power to provide clean electricity to 70,000 households. The plant also helps to keep greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.
  4. Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, with a population of around 22 million. In 2016, 4.1% of the population was below the national poverty line. ADB has mainly funded rural development projects in Sri Lanka but has also focused on social justice and creating better living conditions for Sri Lankan residents. From 2000 to 2018, ADB helped connect more than 200,000 households to electricity and built or upgraded just under 4,000 kilometers of roads. The Asian Development Bank has also funded support for around one million residents affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009.

Since its conception, ADB has made incredible progress in fighting poverty and assisting development in Asia. In 2019 alone, ADB committed $21.64 billion in loans, grants and other investments to various countries and provided $237 million in technical assistance. Still, much poverty remains to be fought—while Asian countries have experienced massive development in the 21st century, many rural areas have been left behind. Poverty remains a pervasive issue in Asia. The Asian Development Bank has changed the lives of many Asian residents, but much remains to be done.

– Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr

hair trade
Poverty comes in various forms: lack of education, malnutrition, preventable diseases, and, in some cases, loss of hair. Hair, like poverty, comes in different appearances: long, wavy, short, brown, curly, red, mid-length or white. Some people covet certain styles, particularly those whose hair cannot naturally conform to the latest trend. Therefore, alternatives such as natural or synthetic hair stand in as solutions. For years, India was the primary provider of natural hair to African American women in the United States. However, in recent years, Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country riddled with poverty, took the spotlight, sending hundreds of locks of hair to America, Europe, South Africa and Nigeria, with the American market accounting for 80% of sales in the hair trade industry. Eyes dote upon these pristine locks, which fall into consumers’ hands at a reasonable price, but the hair trade rarely comes at a fair price to the proprietor.

Injustice in the Industry

In Cambodia, women’s hair typically sells for $8 to $30, depending on the length of the lock. Companies then clean, sew and sell it for an average of an outstanding $500 in the United States. The hair that sells online and in American shops generally come from the heads of poor Khmer women. These women often experience coercion to sell their hair for an unfair price. These women are unaware of the value of their hair and do not know how to barter. In return, the women end up with split ends, bald spots, jagged edges and low self-esteem.

Poverty in Cambodia

Poverty forces unwanted decisions. It includes numerous losses, such as the loss of hair, which signifies beauty and strength. However, the blazing light of poverty is beginning to fade in Cambodia. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambodia had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In fact, over the course of the past 20 years, Cambodia has reduced its poverty level by half. Infant mortality rates have decreased and primary education enrollment has increased. Statistically speaking, Cambodia is on the rise.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have played an instrumental role in the economic climb. One NGO, Open Arms, provides vocational training through various methods, including hairdressing and salon maintenance. Through Open Arms, women, who once had to sell their hair to make financial ends meet, now have the privilege of empowering other women through the simplicity of a haircut.

The shift in the country’s economy has shed light not only on Cambodia’s best but also on her worst, which includes the hair trade industry. With the injustice of the hair trade industry making the pages of prominent news outlets, such as NBC, there is potential for change. After all, awareness is the building block for action. While Cambodia is on an uphill climb, she still has a long way to go. However, she is moving in a positive direction, gaining prominence with each step she takes.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Cambodian garment industryThe Cambodian economy is heavily reliant on the garment industry, and the global garment industry is heavily reliant on Cambodia. The nation accounts for 45% of employed garment manufacturers worldwide. As of 2011, the industry was responsible for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports. However, Cambodia is also infamous for its poor treatment of factory workers, particularly in the garment industry. Here are six facts to understand labor rights violations in the Cambodian garment industry. 

Facts About Labor Rights Violations in the Cambodian Garment Industry

  1. Fixed duration contracts lead to worker insecurity. Employers in the Cambodian garment industry have largely shifted from undetermined duration, or long-term, contracts to fixed-duration, or short-term, contracts. The employers said the shift was in the interest of competitive, flexible business. In reality, fixed-duration contracts have resulted in increased job insecurity, reduced enforcement of international labor laws, industrial relation breakdowns and massive strikes. 
  2. Production targets create high-pressure work environments. To meet quotas, workers are often either forced to work overtime or enticed to do so with a small bonus that is usually never paid. In addition, some workers are often too intimidated to take breaks, even to use the bathroom or drink water.   
  3. Gender discrimination is common. More than 90% of workers in the Cambodian garment industry are women, mostly from rural areas with only a primary school education. One example of gender discrimination is pregnancy-based discrimination, which is abundant in the industry. Employers are known to refuse employment to pregnant women, refuse to renew the contracts of women who become pregnant or even fire pregnant women as their due dates approach. Even if pregnant women remain employed, they receive no workplace accommodations and often have to quit due to fatigue.
  4. Factories frequently violate child labor laws. Though the minimum age requirement for employment in Cambodia is 15, many factories employ children between the ages of 12 and 14. Employers often require children to work long past their eight-hour workday maximum and pay them below minimum wage. To hide this violation, some employers tell the children to hide when visitors come to the factory.
  5. The government often busts unions. There were concentrated efforts to bust unions in at least 35 factories from 2012 to 2015. In December 2013, the Cambodian Minister of Labor introduced obstacles to union formation. The challenges included delaying union certification and giving factory management time to retaliate against union members. Similarly, poor government inspection of factories and labor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible for small unions to assert their rights. 
  6. The Cambodian Ministry of Labor is making significant changes. In January of 2019, the Ministry of Labor introduced several labor law reforms. Among these was the introduction of bimonthly salary payments and seniority payments: compulsory, periodic payments made to employees with long term contracts. The government also introduced severance payments, which require employers to pay fixed-term contract employees at the end of a contract. 

Many people in the Cambodian garment industry face labor rights violations due to a lack of enforcement of labor laws. However, the Cambodian government and international fashion retailers are taking measures to improve working conditions. These measures are the first step to creating better environments and living wages for Cambodian garment workers.

– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

infrastructure development in CambodiaCambodia has remained one of the fastest-growing economies since 2017. The Southeast Asian country’s growth rate averaged about 7.9 percent since the mid-90s. The economy’s fast growth can be attributed to Cambodia’s focus on textiles, tourism and infrastructure development. Although still agriculture-dependent, Cambodia is improving its lagging infrastructure and attempting to rise out of its lower-middle-income status. Foreign nations such as China and organizations such as the European Development Bank are investing in infrastructure development in Cambodia, such as transport infrastructure to help Cambodia facilitate trade, increase competitiveness, add jobs and help reduce poverty.

Progress in Infrastructure Development

Although infrastructure development in Cambodia is increasing, only 96 percent of rural roads and 70 percent of provincial roads are paved. The World Bank-financed the Road Asset Management Project (RAMP) to support Cambodia’s path to road development, which resulted in more than 292 miles of rehabilitated roads with improved climate resiliency and road safety. Ports are also important to Cambodian trade, though it has been stated that the country’s seaport has the highest fees out of all Asian countries. The government said in 2019 that it would reduce its high fees to help increase competitive prices.

Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (SAP) is Cambodia’s only commercial and international deep seaport. Since 2014, the number of containers the port received has grown by 11 percent. It can hold about 4,560 containers total, but there is a plan to expand the port so that it can handle approximately 90 percent of ships in the region by 2023. When completed the TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) will rise from 537,000 to 1.29 million. A TEU is the length of a standard shipping container.

Investors See a Positive Future in Cambodia

China is Cambodia’s largest investor. Cambodia is seen as an important project due to frequent trade between the two nations. The development of roads, ports, railways and other forms of transportation benefits both countries. China has created jobs through manufacturing investments and has contributed to real estate and hydropower plant construction. China Development Bank invested more than $5.7 billion from 2007 to 2019 in infrastructure development in Cambodia, and the bank is constructing an expressway between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh costing $1.87 billion. The port in Sihanoukville is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The European Development Bank (EIB) is also seeing a great future in Cambodia’s development, as it is investing $57 million in Cambodian rural infrastructure starting in 2020. The project is a joint operation between the EIB, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Royal Government of Cambodia. About 200,000 rural families will benefit from new technology, safer roads and better food supply. The money is invested in the Sustainable Assets for Agriculture Markets, Business and Trade project (SAAMBAT), which is a rural development project launched in February 2020. The project will create 4,500 jobs and 500 SMEs. It will also result in training 25,000 Cambodians on digital technologies that will improve business and increase trade.

Infrastructure development in Cambodia is not the only area affected by recent population growth. Poverty reduced from 48 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2018, which went along with Cambodia’s fast growth rate in the past two decades. As a country develops, its poverty rate is lowered. Ports, roads, airports and the power sector are all improving as part of Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy Phase V, which encourages the development process and the policies that align with further development. Cambodia’s goal of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 expresses the country’s positive outlook in its future.

– Lucas Schmidt
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