The Cambodian government supports equal rights for women.
It also faces huge problems including poverty, corruption, ignorance, prejudice, a struggling economy and a disturbing number of citizens who settle disputes with force (or the threat of it).
Those are the two main points Mu Sochua, Minister for Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, will make next week in New York at a special UN session on the status of women.
The session comes five years after the UN’s fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. Delegates are to report on the progress their countries have made since Beijing.
Mu Sochua is taking a positive approach.
“The future holds major promise for the development of Cambodia’’ and its women, she said Wednesday at a press conference at her ministry. But nearly 30 years of war have “devastated the economic, civil and social life of Cambodia, and grimly affected women and girls.’’
And as a result, “the rate of progress,’’ she said, “has been slow.’’ She said her report states bluntly that much more remains to be done, and that she is proud of it.
“The Ministry is responsible for this report,’’ she said. “The report does not deny the problems women are facing, and does not want the government to deny them.’’
Mu Sochua will tell the UN that many of the new laws being written in Cambodia include guarantees of equal rights for women and other protections.
Women’s advocates will be working to convince legislators the language and concepts are crucial, she said. They will also seek to involve other ministries in the effort.
“There is no way the Ministry for Women can finish this job alone,’’ she said. Women’s issues “are not just the responsibility of this ministry but of all government and all people.’’
Reducing poverty, improving factory working conditions and providing better health care will all help women, she said, while the Ministry of Education is considering special policies aimed at keeping girls in school longer.
Improvements to the justice system—including female judges and police—would encourage more women to report crimes and fend off attackers, she said.
Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, says that while Mu Sochua and her ministry are doing a great job in drawing attention to women’s issues, other ministries must do more.
She works with many crime victims, including women who have been attacked by husbands or relatives. And although conditions are gradually improving, she says, “it is still hard to get police to take domestic violence seriously. They still consider it a [family] matter.’’
Attitudes probably won’t change, she said, until “we have women police and women judges.’’ She cited a recent rape case in which the victim, impregnated in the attack, was accused by the male judge of falsely charging rape because she was angry at being pregnant.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said that while Cambodia has made some progress on women’s issues, the challenges have also grown larger.
Cambodian society before the wars did not have to deal with AIDS, or the family stresses born of the refugee camps, or the global industry in human trafficking, she said.
“So compared to the past, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is doing a lot, but the need is so much greater,’’ she said. “Legislation and enforcement always trail behind the action.’’
In the meantime, she said, “we should applaud the Ministry and Mu Sochua for what they have done.’’