Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Gender (page 1 of 11)

Time for Cambodian women to take the lead

(published on analysis and op-ed of the Phnom Penh Post, 08 March 2016)

Huge strides have been made for women’s progress in Cambodia over the last couple of decades. Women’s presence is strongly felt within the workforce and more women have begun to climb the career ladder and assume higher-level positions than ever before.

Today we see women dominating in one of Cambodia’s largest industries – the garment sector – and women taking up office jobs, becoming entrepreneurs, obtaining positions within local government and even becoming parliamentarians.

Women’s participation in grassroots-level activism is also strongly felt. Among the throngs of demonstrators that routinely take to the streets in Cambodia to demand their rights in the face of widespread violations, growing numbers of women are joining the ranks.

Women activists and human rights defenders are organising, mobilising, and leading advocacy initiatives throughout the country. From Phnom Penh to the remotest of provinces, women are leading communities to demand their rights. The overwhelming female presence in the struggle for the recognitions of human rights in Cambodia is undeniable.

International Women’s Day (IWD), observed across the globe today, celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. In Cambodia – a country where historically women have been discouraged from participating in social and political actions – there is much to celebrate. Women are increasingly playing an important role in community-level activism, showing just how far Cambodia has moved forward in terms of women’s empowerment.

This year, one initiative that is taking place to celebrate IWD is a campaign to #PledgeforParity, which calls on individuals to pledge to take a concrete step in terms of purposeful action to help achieve gender parity.

While women’s progress in Cambodia is certainly laudable, women continue to be discriminated against and underrepresented in key decision-making roles in public and political life. Parity, unfortunately, remains out of reach.

For example, the International Federation of Journalists has found that although high numbers of women have begun to join the traditionally male-dominated media, they remain significantly underrepresented in key decision-making roles.

Similarly, in Cambodia’s garment sector, while women make up 86 per cent of the workforce, a survey conducted by the Solidarity Center has found the majority of union leaders to be male.

The lack of female leadership within the industry means that pressing gender-related issues affecting the majority of the workforce – for example, maternity rights, poor sanitation and the gender wage gap – are largely overlooked within the labour movement.

Of great concern is the lack of women’s representation in politics. The last National Assembly elections, held in July 2013, saw the first decrease in women’s representation in parliament in 20 years and a failure to meet the Millennium Development Goal of 30 per cent female representation in parliament by 2015.

The situation has only worsened since. Only recently the National Assembly has come under fire for a lack of commitment to ensuring women’s representation among lawmakers, as the number of female parliamentarians decreased to below 20 per cent in 2015.

Indeed, the glaring absence of women in influential roles in Cambodia is largely due to a lack of understanding of – and commitment to – gender mainstreaming. This is problematic considering prevailing traditional attitudes that discriminate against women.

Revealing the less than favourable attitude towards female leaders, Ath Thorn, president of the garment industry’s largest independent union – the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union – has remarked that its members are reluctant to elect women leaders as they are viewed as less capable.

It’s not just within leadership where Cambodia is failing its women. Gender-based violence remains a key concern in Cambodia. A report released by the World Health Organization late last year revealed domestic abuse of women to be a pressing concern in Cambodia, with over a fifth of women suffering physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Equally as alarming, a UN survey in 2013 found that one in five Cambodian men admitted to having raped a woman.

To give credit where credit is due, the royal government of Cambodia has taken decisive and positive steps regarding gender empowerment. The government has a specific national gender equality strategy – the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2014-2018 – which focuses on women’s economic empowerment and preventing gender-based violence.

In addition, a number of civil society organisations continue to work tirelessly to bridge the gender gap by supporting and empowering women.

Such efforts have been the driving force behind women’s progress in the Kingdom. Yet, much work remains to be done. It’s not just about fulfilling quotas. We need to begin focusing on the quality of women’s participation, as well as the quantity.

In light of the upcoming elections, it is vital that concrete measures are taken to ensure women’s participation in decision-making roles in both public and political spheres. It’s time for Cambodian women to take up their places as leaders.

On the long road ahead in the fight for gender equality, I pledge to continue to challenge gender bias, and inspire and empower women in Cambodia to become leaders in their fields. I call upon all Cambodians to join me, and #PledgeforParity, to ensure a more inclusive and equal Cambodia.

Chak Sopheap is the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Turning 30: My Thirtieth Birthday Celebration  

I got a dream when I turned ten: I wanted to be a doctor. It was just imagination but I wanted to be a famous doctor in Cambodia and if possible in the world to cure poor people. As I am a left-handed person, I wished that I could use this left hand to cure people effectively.

Then my dream changed. When I turned twenty I started an internship with a civil society organization. This was the pathway that totally changed my vision. Ten years later, I am obsessed with civil society work and social media platforms, and I have realized that this is who I want to be, not the doctor I had dreamt to become.

However, putting my life-path back to the intersection where I turned my back to a medical doctor career, probably other scenario could have happened. I might have been satisfied with myself or not, but I keep joking about that: probably those who know me now would have been my clients for medical service, or maybe we would have not met in this life-path.

At the end of this month, I will turn 30—an age when you could feel that you are getting old, but I would say the age when “I grow up.” My dream has not really changed. As quoted by Banyan Blog:

As a child, she once dreamed of being a doctor, to serve the poor, but now her dream is to help create a freer, more open and just Cambodia.

I now have a wish to celebrate my 30th birthday: that you all join my cause to empower others to grow up. In 2014, I launched with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) the pilot “Empowering Cloghers Project”. Through the microgrant support from the Global Voice Online we strengthened the online presence and influence of female university students from rural Cambodia by enabling them to become Cloghers– and to become active online. Cloghers are Cambodian bloggers – locally known as “cloggers” – who are women, thus “cloghers”. My wish is to empower 30 more cloghers and I would like to see my friends to be active citizens and to join my cause by contributing to support this idea. We need to collect roughly US$3000.

I will start collecting my birthday gift from now until 30th March when I will really turn 30. Gift me with three numbered—which could be $3 or $30 or more—for “My Thirtieth Birthday Celebration”!

Your gift will be properly collected, recorded and managed with transparency and accountability. Click here to gift me.

Alternatively, please contact me via chaksopheap@gmail.com for any inquiry about this cause or way of donation.

 

Human rights, lest we forget

July 2014 Human Rights Spotlight: Human rights, lest we forget
(published on analysis and op-ed of the Phnom Penh Post, 29 July 2014)
Mam Sonando (centre), the owner of the independent Beehive radio station and a prominent government critic
Mam Sonando (centre), the owner of the independent Beehive radio station and a prominent government critic, and other activists run as military police officers disperse a demonstration in Phnom Penh in January. AFP

 

The end of the boycott of the National Assembly by the Cambodia National Rescue Party is a welcome development. The fact that both parties were able to finally come to the table and settle their disagreements should be welcomed. However, we cannot become complacent just because Cambodia’s political crisis has been signed away with a promise of reform of the National Election Commission.

Electoral reform is important in any country where election irregularities have been noted, and it is crucial to Cambodia’s democratic development – no one can deny that. But electoral reform alone will not solve Cambodia’s other crisis: the human rights crisis.

Over the past year, the human rights situation has continued to deteriorate, with people’s fundamental rights and freedoms being slowly stripped away. We must ensure that we keep this at the forefront and that we push both political parties to work towards greater protection of human rights.

So as we welcome the end of the political deadlock, we cannot forget that there still has been no satisfactory investigation into why so many people were killed and injured by security forces during protests and why victims of police violence are being denied their right to justice.

We cannot forget that journalists continue to be targeted for reporting on controversial stories on a daily basis; that defamation suits are repeatedly used to silence those who dare to speak out; and that online freedom is increasingly at risk.

We cannot forget that across Cambodia, women, the LGBT community and minorities are discriminated against in their communities and by the authorities; that the shockingly high rate of violence against women continues to keep them from reaching their potential.

We cannot forget that Cambodia’s judiciary continues to bend to the Cambodian People’s Party’s political interests, which may be exacerbated by the three recently passed laws on judicial reform; that all too often, courts of law are used to protect the wealthy and powerful, and all too rarely to render justice.

We cannot forget that garment factory workers are still not earning enough to be able to live in dignity; that employers continue to take advantage of poorly worded labour and union laws and of weak enforcement mechanisms to maintain deplorable working conditions and violate union rights.

We cannot forget that thousands of Cambodians have been evicted from their land to make way for commercial and development projects that they will most likely not benefit from; that those who have been evicted are still waiting for real compensation and solutions.

Forgetting that this human rights crisis is very much alive and well will only enable those who benefit from it to continue violating human rights with impunity. It will continue to hold Cambodia’s development back, as the majority of the population continues to see little or even no improvements in their living conditions or in their ability to benefit from Cambodia’s economic growth.

None of this means that we should forget electoral reform. But we should remember that electoral reform is not just about replacing the NEC’s members – it’s also about reforming the way that political parties campaign, so that elections become about policies as opposed to rhetoric. It’s also about eradicating corruption to ensure that voter lists cannot be altered to suit political interests and that legitimate voters are not turned away at the polls.

As we reflect on the political deal that has just been made, we must remember that there is still so much to be done to ensure that Cambodia becomes a place where the protection of human rights becomes a reality and not just a dream, and that democracy finally takes hold. We must pressure both political parties to work together towards ending this human rights crisis. We must ensure that they work with civil society to ensure that new laws, new policies and new institutions are designed to safeguard human rights and not to erode them further. Only when our legal framework is strengthened and the rule of law made a national priority will we see an improvement.

Chak Sopheap is the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights

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