Cambodia Falls Behind Neighbors in Gender Equality, Forum Says Forum

Cambodia is the worst country in the region when it comes to gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Gender Gap Index, which was released Tuesday.

The index, which ranks countries according to female-to-male ratios in four key areas—economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and health—placed Cambodia 104 out of 134 countries in the world and last in Southeast Asia.

It also marks a short drop in Cam­bodia’s position from last year, when it was ranked 94 out of 130 indexed countries. Cambodia falls behind neighboring Thailand (59), Vietnam (71), and Malaysia (101). However, Burma and Laos were not ranked in the index.

In individual categories, Cam­bodia surpassed the international average for gender gaps in wo­men’s health and economic participation, but lagged behind when it came to political participation and education.

Cambodia fared well in the area of women’s health mainly because women here have a higher healthy life expectancy than men, and the sex ratio at birth is fairly even. But the percentage of women holding political positions in Cambodia is comparatively low: There are only seven women in ministerial positions here compared to 93 men, and 16 female parliamentarians com­pared to 84 male ones, according to the index.

SRP parliamentarian and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said yesterday that she was not surprised at the Cambodia’s poor showing in this category.

“The atmosphere is not conducive for women to enter politics in Cambodia,” she said. “The obstacles are economic, first of all, and social and political as well.”

To help narrow the political gender gap, Ms Sochua suggested establishing a 30 percent quota for women in political and civil service positions as well as increasing educational opportunities for women.

Social commentator Chea Van­nath said yesterday that the gender gap is related to poverty, which could explain Cambodia’s low ranking on the index.

“Generally speaking, we can say that poverty affects women more than men,” she said. “If the general overall poverty percentage is decreasing, it means that the gap will narrow.”

Ms Vannath emphasized that women’s participation in politics is a complex issue, explaining that although there are more and more female local authorities at the village and commune levels, women don’t always have a lot of incentive to leave the domestic sphere and enter the political arena.

“Cambodian women don’t just work outside of the house to earn money; they are also housewives taking care of children and elderly parents, so there’s a lot of burden on women,” she said. “Some of them choose not to join politics because of a lack of incentives, or because of the culture related to gender.”

“Cambodian men need to change their attitude and see themselves as equal partners of their wives and help with the housework,” she added.

 

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