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Women's Rights in CambodiaThe Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been one of the world’s most important nongovernmental organizations defending women’s rights since it was adopted by the U.N. General Council in 1979. Since then, it has been ratified by 187 countries and has played a major role in the overall increase of women’s safety and living standards worldwide.

Cambodia ratified the CEDAW in 1992, shortly after the end of its civil war. Despite the good intentions such a ratification signals, women’s rights in Cambodia remained stagnant for many years.

Not until the 2003 National Poverty Reduction Strategy (NPRS) was enacted did the Cambodian CEDAW ratification become anything more than nominal. Among many other goals, the NPRS acknowledged and addressed the gap in education, employment and property rights between men and women. Though many women were helped by the plan, the fact remains that they were simply a small part of a larger overall strategy. There remained much to do.

Though women’s rights in Cambodia were helped by both the NPRS and a 2002 affirmative action policy, which gave priority to women entering tertiary education, it was not until recently that the government began truly following through on its commitment to equal rights for women. The Cambodia National Council for Women (CNCW) and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) were both established in 2001, but it was not until 2005 and 2007, respectively, that either began having any measurable effect.

Some progress has been made. In 2005, 64 percent of people in Cambodia knew a man who had abused his wife. By 2009, the number had shrunk to 53 percent. Infant mortality rates dropped from 65 to 45 per 1000 births between 2005 and 2010, and maternal mortality rates dropped from 472 to 206 per 100,000 births over the same period. From 2008 to 2013, the number of women who received education increased three percent overall, with the most significant improvements being made in the vital rural regions.

Women’s rights in Cambodia have come a long way in a short amount of time, but there is no place now for complacency. Women make up only 15 percent of the Cambodian Senate, a number unchanged since 1999. Parliament is slightly better, with one in five members being women, but this percentage is still frighteningly low.

No Cambodian provinces are governed by women, and sex trafficking, low wages and long hours at menial jobs remain a reality for many women, especially those in rural areas. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights monitors violations of women’s rights and the work they do alongside the CNCW and the MoWA will continue to shepherd Cambodia into the future. If Cambodians truly wish to become a modern nation, the progress they have made cannot stop until reality reflects the intent of the CEDAW, signed so many years ago.

Connor S. Keowen

Photo: Flickr

Fighting for Women's Rights in Cambodia
While Cambodia is classified as a democratic nation, the country still struggles to combat human rights violations and gender inequality. The UN has pressured the Cambodian government to eliminate corruption, especially regarding women’s rights and sex trafficking. Government officials have taken steps to move forward in this process, but human rights violations have been far from eradicated. The fight for women’s rights in Cambodia is particularly difficult and securing gender equality faces substantial barriers.

While women may have the same rights as men under the law, the implementation of those rights is entirely inadequate. Culturally, many Cambodians view women as secondary human beings, as shown by the famous saying, “men are gold; women are cloth.” This cultural norm discourages women from being public participants in economic and political processes.

Cambodian women face significant challenges in pursuing jobs outside the home. Most of the opportunities readily available to them are in dangerous or inconsistent conditions, and women are also paid significantly less than men. In high-profit markets, men comprise almost all leadership positions.

Education for women in Cambodia can also be tricky, as families are not legally required to send their children to school, and if they do not have much money the boys will typically receive an education first. Child marriage also creates problems for young girls getting an education, as they are incredibly unlikely to return to school after becoming a bride.

The imbalance of social power between men and women can quickly turn into something not only unfair, but dangerous. Violence against women is common in Cambodia, and 20 percent of women over 15 have encountered some form of physical abuse from a man. Acts of sexual violence, including rape, also plagues Cambodia. The government does a terrible job of holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable, making equal rights for women in Cambodia less tangible.

Sex trafficking, often a result of living in deep poverty, is a huge problem in Cambodia. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, and many are sold by members of their own family. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is the home base of many sex trafficking rings.

While women’s rights in Cambodia are not ideal, many organizations are working towards gender equality. The government has adopted several policies that they hope will lead to a crackdown on sex trafficking. Action Aid – an organization that works to promote the lives of the oppressed – has a plan to increase female participation in politics and elevate the quality of women’s rights in Cambodia by 2018.

Women in Cambodia are living in harsh conditions and have yet to achieve gender equality in public or private spheres. While the struggle for equal rights is far from over, the spirit of change is working in the country. Through the efforts of the government and other organizations such as Action Aid, support for women’s rights in Cambodia should increase, and with it, gender equality should start to improve.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Google