A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Cambodia at 91st out of 113 countries for providing economic opportunities to women, lower than every other Southeast Asian country surveyed except Laos.
Cambodia beat out Laos by eight spots in the overall rankings, but was far behind Thailand, at 48th place, and Vietnam, at 79th. Sweden took the top spot while Sudan came in last in the index released July 1, the first of its kind by the research arm of the UK-based Economist Group, which publishes The Economist magazine.
The low ranking for Cambodia came despite robust legal protections for women, according to the report. Cambodia was ranked first of all Asian countries, and 33rd overall, by the EIU when it came to women’s legal and social status, which included property ownership rights and laws on violence against women.
But Cambodia did much worse in the other four categories, taking the 105th spot in women’s access to financial services, 92nd in education and 110th in the business environment, which deals with general startup costs. It ranked 83rd in labor policy and practice, which includes maternity leave and gender discrimination.
“Women’s economic opportunities are influenced not just by a country’s regulatory environment but also by social attitudes and customs,” the EIU said in a statement accompanying the report, which was based on data from the UN, the World Bank and other international organizations.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Women’s Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Sy Define declined to comment on the report, saying someone would reply today to questions submitted by e-mailed.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is also the former Minister of Women’s Affairs, said yesterday she was unsurprised by Cambodia’s low ranking. She said widespread poverty and lack of education hobbled female economic achievement, especially when coupled with child rearing.
“Women have a harder time when the family is poor because women have to handle so many functions and roles,” she said.
But Ms Sochua, who is herself in a legal battle after a hostile exchange of words with the Prime Minister last year, differed with the report’s upbeat assessment of women’s legal and social status.
“We have all the laws but the implementation of the laws is very poor,” she said, citing corruption in the judiciary and weak rule of law. “Legislation alone will not improve the legal status of women.”
She also said she did not think credit was difficult to obtain for Cambodian women, citing the abundance of microcredit institutions.
“It is not difficult to get the microcredit. It is how to use the microcredit to improve the lives of women,” Ms Sochua said. “The credit that they get is not a sure passport to economic success.”
An EIU report released in March of 2009 drew the attention of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said afterward that “we shouldn’t pay much attention” to it. The report gave Cambodia the fourth-highest score in the world on a political instability index, with only Zimbabwe, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo rating higher.