Study Finds Gender Imbalance in Workforce

Gender disparities are rampant throughout Cambodia’s labor, agriculture and educational systems, a new report from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs states, but government and NGO officials are looking to a bold set of recommendations to re­dress inequalities for women.

More than 250 delegates convened in Phnom Penh Wednes­day and Thursday to discuss the draft of the Cambodia Country Gender Assessment, the first comprehensive analysis of the status of women in Cambodia. Compiled from findings by the government, NGOs and donor sources, the report analyzes is­sues affecting women, including health, education, domestic violence and labor.

In response to the often grim portrayal of life for Cambodian women that the data seems to paint, the draft also offers a set of recommendations on eradicating poverty and disease, increasing women’s participation in political and social issues and improving women’s share in the country’s rapidly growing economic sector.

Much of the report focuses on gender inequality in the workforce. While more than 80 percent of Cambodian women over 15 are employed—the highest percentage in Southeast Asia, the draft claims—women earn one-third less than their male counterparts.

Cultural attitudes regarding women’s capabilities in the workplace hold them back from better-paying jobs, Minster of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said.

“Society has told people to consider women [as] weaker people,” she said.

Expectations for wo­men’s roles in the home also can significantly impact their participation in the workforce, she said. For every man relaxing in a coffee shop, she said, there is likely a wife at home washing his clothes.

“Where will the women here go after the meeting?” she said in a press conference after the close of the workshop, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. “The girls here after the meeting, they will have to go home [and do chores].”

Gender inequalities are even more pronounced in rural areas, the report states. While more than a quarter of Cambodian households are headed by women, those in rural areas are more likely to be landless or have significantly smaller plots, the draft states.

Access to health care should be improved, Mu Sochua said. Less than one-third of pregnant women in Cambodia give birth in a hospital, she said. At 437 deaths for every 100,000 births, Cambodia’s infant mortality rate is the highest in Southeast Asia, the draft stated.

The report set forth a list of goals aimed at improving wo­men’s status in the next decade. Those include eliminating the en­rollment gap between boys and girls in the first through ninth grades, reducing the percentage of families living in poverty, combating disease and child mortality and improving women’s access to health care.

The draft is the first consolidated analysis of Cambodian wo­men’s status, said Lynn Lee, adviser on gender, advocacy and reproductive health for the ministry. She expressed hope that it would be used as a tool for governments and NGOs working to improve women’s status. The draft has not yet been approved by the National Assembly, Mu Sochua said.

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