Index Shows Little Progress in Gender Equality

Cambodia has made almost no progress over the past six years when it comes to gender equality, and is still the lowest-ranked country in the region, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Gender Gap Index.

Ranked 103 out of 135 countries surveyed, Cambodia placed last in the region and came in the bottom half of low-income nations, according to the index, which since 2006 has scored countries according to male-to-female ratios in four areas: economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.

Showing very slight improvement in the first three categories and a significant drop in political empowerment, Cambodia received an overall score of 0.646 out of 1, the same score as in 2011, and only slightly higher than its first ranking in 2006, when it received a 0.629.

The country’s poor performance in the area of political empowerment is due to a decrease of women in ministerial positions, according to the index, with females holding 10 percent of minister-level offices in 2011 and just 5 percent in 2012.

In the area of economic participation—which considers income and wage equality, as well as female-to-male ratios in the labor force, technical jobs and managerial positions—Cambodia scored slightly higher than last year, but lower than in 2006, mostly due to low numbers of women in high-level business roles.

When it comes to educational attainment, Cambodia has seen modest, but steady, improvement since 2006, with significant inequality in university education holding the country back from more substantial improvement, according to the index.

Only in the category of health did Cambodia beat the international average with a score of 0.980, a combination of higher scores in life expectancy and sex ratio at birth.

Ros Sophea, executive director of the Gender and Development Organization of Cambodia, said yesterday that Cambodia’s lack of progress when it comes gender in-equality in business and politics was in part because most women’s NGOs focus mainly on sexual and domestic violence.

“I think that gender in economics is the issue where we NGOs have not yet started,” Ms. Sophea said. “The direct need is gender-based violence.”

Ms. Sophea said, however, that as more women report gender-based crimes to police, resources and attention will be directed to the gender gap in the workplace. Key to this effort, she said, is raising awareness of existing disparities.

“The policy needs [to be] to raise awareness in mass media and high levels [of government],” she said. “I think the challenge is understanding of gender among the top leaders.”

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