Minister Says Challenges Remain in Achieving Gender Equality

Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi on Tuesday defended the government’s policies on promoting gender equality and preventing discrimination against women, but conceded that challenges remain in achieving principles set out in the U.N.’s convention to stop discrimination against women.

Speaking in Geneva to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Ms. Kantha Phavi presented details on what the government has done over the past 10 years in order to make pro­gress on the targets expressed within the convention.

“The Rectangular Strategy reiterates that women are the backbone of the country,” Ms. Kantha Phavi said, referring to the government’s broad-ranging policy on how to promote equality, employment and economic growth.

An updated version of the policy includes provisions to stamp out violence against women, with particular attention paid to garment workers, women with disabilities, HIV/AIDS and those who suffer from violence, she said, adding that the more recent policy “builds on lessons learned from the previous policy.”

“The Ministry for Women’s Af­fairs and the National Council for Women have been leading efforts to promote gender equality in Cambodia,” Ms. Kantha Phavi said. “Gender-mainstreaming groups have been formed in ministries to monitor and harmonize [this].”

She also said that the Law on Monogamy as well as provisions inside the penal and civil codes all serve to protect women’s rights. But she defended the government’s refusal to draft a law that specifically deals with discrimination, insisting that the article in the Constitution on the rights of citizens already does enough.

She said that women make up 49.2 percent of the agricultural sector, 47.6 in industry and 47.5 in services, but while “gender gaps are improving, attention is needed in the service sector where wages [are still] low.”

“Illiteracy and low levels of education remain serious constraints for women, and there is limited access to vocational training,” she said, adding that women vulnerable to being trafficked or working in the entertainment industry “cannot be ignored.”

Challenges also persist when it comes to women trying to access health services, she said. Seventy percent of women say they have problems doing so because they don’t have enough money to pay for treatment, while one-third simply cannot reach a health facility as they live too far away.

Ms. Kantha Phavi also referred to a so-called “poverty identification,” which people can allegedly obtain upon proving their indigence and use to secure free health care.

She said that more convictions have been meted out in rape and sexual assault cases and that there were 330 convictions out of 456 cases in 2011. However, the government’s report presented Tuesday states that in 2012, convictions for rape and sexual abuse fell to 191.

Of the challenges that remain, she said that the government needs to have “more reliable data” on the number of women who have been raped or trafficked.

Following her address, representatives from other state parties to the convention were given the chance to put questions to the delegation.

They wanted to know why there have never been any recorded judicial complaints of discrimination against women, despite evidence to the contrary that women are discriminated against. They also asked what could be done to ensure that victims of sexualized violence under the Khmer Rouge get justice and reparations for their suffering.

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