This Op-Ed was published in the Phnom Penh Post and Rasmei Kampuchea on Thursday 8 March 2012, to mark International Women's Day.
Today is International Women’s Day. There is no better occasion to shine a light on the valuable contributions of women and girls in Cambodian society.
According to the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics, 52.4% of women in 2009 were self-employed[i]. Yet in Cambodia just 0.3% of women were classified as employers. Women are twice as likely to face wage discrimination or find themselves in unpaid work. The garment industry is one of the biggest employers in the country, with an estimated 350,000 employees. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 90.7% of them are women and their remittances are estimated to support 1.7 million Cambodians.
As the stories, published on a new UN-sponsored “New Waves” blog today (http://loy9.com/en/blog/new-waves) clearly illustrate, there are no shortage of incredibly inspiring women and girls in Cambodia. The personal stories that feature on the blog tell of the fierce spirit, determination and perseverance of so many women and girls in this country who have not simply settled with the conditions they were dealt in their lives, and have worked and struggled so hard to change their lives and the realities in their community for the better. These are women who seek economic empowerment and to strengthen their community and their country. Essential to the process of economic empowerment is one’s ability to believe in yourself.
It is through sharing these positive stories of women that we will inspire the continual growth of better protection of women’s rights, recognize women’s achievements and build stronger economic development in Cambodia. Minister of Women’s Affairs, H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi has often referred to the very substantial contributions of women to Cambodia’s economy—citing the fact that a great majority of businesses in the informal sector are women-owned. And so today is an opportune moment to reflect on the economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of Cambodian women.
Entrepreneurship is a path to the creation of jobs and incomes. Entrepreneurs play an important role in a country’s growth, and market economy. Studies have shown that engaging women in business leads to fairer employment, improved corporate social responsibility, and greater investment back into communities. In many emerging economies, women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, and women in Cambodia should be further encouraged and supported to do the same.
Cambodian women entrepreneurs are charting a new course in their economic pursuits and should be recognized for their resilience and determination in adapting to change and for their strong leadership qualities in both the informal and formal sector. Considering both the needs of their family, the community and the business, Cambodian women entrepreneurs have demonstrated courage, technical skill and capacity to build strong relationships .
However, although many women are actively engaged in economic activities, most of them are working in the informal sector, particularly in the agricultural and manufacturing industries. Improving the economic empowerment of women in Cambodia will require particular efforts to address: a lack of direct market linkages; a lack of production capacities; a lack of business management and data management skills; and the low cooperation with the private sector.
Between 2011 and 2015, the UN in Cambodia plans to spend $33 million to address the needs of women in this country. Part of these efforts is aimed at strengthening the economic participation of women. In 2012, the UN will be working to strengthen women in business, producers groups and self-help groups. We will be supporting women to improve their productivity and the quality of their products. Furthermore, we will continue our collaboration with social partners and NGOs to form and sustain more women’s business associations and promote the rights of women migrant workers seeking jobs abroad.
These efforts must be supported by the government, development partners, and particularly by the private sector.
Douglas Broderick is the UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia. Wenny Kusuma is the Country Director for UN Women.
[i] Defined by International Labour Organisation (ILO) as those who “[work] on their own account or with one or more partners, hold the type of job defined as a self-employed job, and have not engaged on a continuous basis any employees to work for them during the reference period.”
 Voices of Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs, International Finance Coorporation.