Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Clogher (page 2 of 10)

Welcome to Clogher page!
Inspired by a century of Women Rights Celebration (March 8th 2011), this Clogher [defined as a female Clogger = Cambodian Blogger] page dedicates to expose women role in society by looking at success, challenges and pathway toward women empowerment.

Cambodian Women and the Economy

Cambodian Women and the Economy – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

 

Cambodian Women and the Economy

A traditional Khmer saying  “sartrey bangvil cheung kran min chum”, meaning  women cannot do anything besides moving around the kitchen,  seems no longer valid in contemporary Cambodian society, at least to a larger extent.

A quick glance at some figures can show why this is so: around 65 percent of a  total of 505,134 establishments recorded in the 2011 Cambodia Economic Census by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) are represented by women – are female-headed in other words – while some 60 percent of persons engaged therein are female – equivalent to roughly one million women.

The saying becomes even less applicable when we look at at the employment figures in the textile and garment industry which has been a major growth driver of the Cambodian economy for more than a decade now. Official statistics of the Ministry of Commerce show that around 90 percent of labor in the textile and garment industry in Cambodia is female, equal to almost 304,000 women as of April 2012. This explicitly stresses the significant contribution Cambodian women make to the country’s economic development.

Women sellers at a provincial market of<br /><br />
Cambodia (Photo by the author (CC BY-ND 2.0))

According to an analysis in the 2007 report “Cambodia’s Garment Industry Post-ATC—Human Development Impact Assessment” of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, every direct job created by the textile and garment industry indirectly creates another job in other sectors – especially in the local trade (in agriculture products, food and clothing) and transportation sectors. Moreover, the textile and garment industries contribute around ten percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Cambodia, according to the NIS in its “National Account”. It is partly due to the role played by women that Cambodia has achieved higher growth rate in its GDP than other  countries in the region, especially prior to the economic crisis in late 2008.

All these facts, however, have yet  suceeded in bridging the gender gap in Cambodia. Female employment opportunities in Cambodia are currently highly concentrated in less skilled jobs which are highly vulnerable to external shocks like economic crises. Trade union and media sources report that some 60,000 female workers were laid off in the textile and garment industries when exports of clothing and accessories slumped in 2009. Most media reports state that while some of them decided to return to their homes to work on the land, many of these unemployed women turned to seek employment opportunities in the entertainment/service sectors which have dangerously high exposure to the flesh trade.

Women working in the  local trade sector have also shared a similar fate. Growth in the local trade sector was stunted as it was largely dependent on growth in the textile and garment industries which, as the NIS shows, experienced negative growth of nine percent in 2009.  This had a bad knock-on effect on local trading activities which are mainly handled by women.

To turn to another aspect, national figures show that the Cambodian female literacy rate stood at 64.1 percent in 2010, far below the literacy rate for males of 84.7 percent. This means there were only 66 girls to every 100 boys participating in higher secondary schooling; and only 48 girls to every 100 boys at college/university level. The obvious outcome here is that even before they enter the employment market, Cambodian women are disadvantaged by having fewer, or even lower, skills than their male counterparts.

The fact that women in Cambodia have not yet attained the same level of professional skills as men is critical and an injustice that needs to be remedied. Better education is needed for Cambodian women workers to close the gender gap and make them less vulnerable to the lure of “entertainment” work.

Reflection: Can Women Still Have it All?

An article devotes to celebrate 2013 Women Rights Day and the ongoing Clogher page:

As a woman living in this modern age, I have entitled fundamental rights and even more privilege affirmative actions, which complimentary credit should be handed to the states and other relevant agencies for gender equality and equity, while my female fellows could not enjoy in her traditional age. With figure shown increasing number of women participation in all aspects including political, economic, and social life, comparing to previous decades, we all should applaud this ongoing successful effort.

However, after reading a well-known article by Anne-Marrie Slaughter—a Princeton University professor and the first women to serve as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, from 2009 to 2011—who left a position in power, titling “why women still can’t have it all,” which had been released since July 2012, it took me until now to be able to reflect her three half-truths than many women tell about how we can have it all. I shared her view that it is worth to reflect these controversial truths if we do wish for women to have it all and for professional women to be prepared for the stage she would be facing:

Having It All Myth # 1 : “It’s possible if you are just committed enough.”

Slaughter posits that the pressure from “inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel and constant pressure to be in the office,” are commonplace in the highest-level professional positions. She also suggested that “these ‘mundane’ issues-the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office-cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap.”

I am not yet a mum myself, but a married woman with somewhat demands a housewife role at some point, which I have never imagined when living separate from my parental home. Although I have learned and committed for better time management as instructed in my first year bachelor degree, I still found it challenging to meet a time balance between my routine civic engagement, blogosphere, and families. My mother used to say to me once during my younger age when I involved much with youth engagement “home is just like a guest-house where I visited only night time while daytime, she could not find me at all.” When I have now tried to balance that family time, I have lost time for social life given the fact that I have to visit them on weekend. Is marriage an obstacle or would it be different if I would not be married? It partly yes and no: It is ‘no’ when it is rather a life choice to make time balance between work, society, and family and it is ‘yes’ as more attachment requires more allocation to each piece of that attached.

Having It All Myth # 2 : “It’s possible if you marry the right person.”

This remind me “The Lady” film which shows how supportive Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband is to support her political affairs. As Slaughter asserts such supportive spouse is necessary, yet it is not sufficient condition to “having it all.” While Slaughter stress much important role of a mother to take care her children and it is worse feeling for a mother being a way of children due to work obligation, I would stress beyond the mother responsibility, but also as a wife or a child of our parent or our closed relatives. Being married to the right person also demand us to take care more that we need to treat him/her the same way. As Slaughter writes: “Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices-on issues from war to welfare-take on private lives.”

Having It All Myth # 3 : “It’s possible if you sequence it right.”

Probably this is where I come to point of prioritizing the sequence of life ambition. As Slaughter warns “young women should be wary of the assertion ‘You can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.’ ” You may choose carefully to sequence career advancement, family planning or getting a lower pressure job while kids are young and then lift up your career profile. Some friends suggested that having kids young is good for us in the future, but I found it similar to what Slaughter warns the challenges with financial means or career successes; while delaying child-bearing can also lead to infertility struggles or age discrimination. She asserts that “Neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.”

By raising these three half-truths about women having it all, Slaughter offers recommendations for structural and societal changes needed to finally give working professionals especially working mother—some hope of achieving work-life balance, such as: 1) changing the culture of face time; 2) revaluing family values; 3) redefining the arc of a successful career; 4) rediscovering the pursuit of happiness; 5) innovation nation; and 6) enlisting men. Find detail of these recommendation in her article.

On top of what she has recommended while giving myself reflection in Cambodian context, I would suggest the following recommendation that should apply internally rather than waiting for external factors:

Recommendation # 1 : “Dare to Dream”

“Women still cannot have it all” if she stop dreaming. My argument, although acknowledging the challenges as mentioned, is to dare to dream. Dreaming is not about to go to bed and dream during our sleeping time, but to plan our ambition.

Recommendation #2 : “Walk your life dream” 

The question, “Can Women Still Have it All?” seems ambitious but useful guide for women to plan a head or start planning now to “have it all.” Daring to dream alone is not enough; it is like you are dreaming in your sleeping time, nothing could not happen if you would not walk that dream out or wait other to hold your hand to walk that dream.

Recommendation # 3 : “Bringing others into your dream”

Family—either parent, husband/wife, or children—work, or what else you could think of as your life balance obstacle to success, I would suggest you to start touring them around your dream, make them understand about you, your personality, and your own dream. Once they understand your own dream, more or less toleration and support they could give lend to you. The challenges that most people including I myself used to face is the communication barrier, which I was not confident or fearful to speak my mind out. However, only when we could break that barrier to communicate our dream with our surrounding, we could get more support than misjudgment that hinder our dream.

Cambodia: Women and Effective Leadership

Cambodia: Women and Effective Leadership (Khmer Version)
Written by Sopheap Chak in attribution to Open Institute’s Women Program
The article is part of Open Institute’s Women Bulletin issue #7, December 2010

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