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Gender Makes a Difference

By: Norbert Klein Posted: November-05-2010 in
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Norbert Klein

A speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen on 3 November 2010, addressing more than 600 women in different positions employed by the government, May turn out to be of utmost importance for the future of Cambodia – bringing fundamental changes to society: calling for more gender equality in politics. But the Prime Minister did not say so only in general terms, he made quite practical proposals how to start, calling on the leadership in many government institutions that they should appoint women whenever positions become vacant when a present office holder is retired.

And he called on the people responsible to suggest such appointments to start with this new practice as soon as possible. This process has the goal of achieving about half-and-half male and female persons in government positions. But the Prime Minister stated also clearly that he meant this to be taken seriously: “If they are promoted, they must be entrusted with responsibility… In some places, they are promoted only as a symbol,” as The Cambodia Daily reported.

There are, of course, also voices dismissing this announcement as empty words, pointing to present realities in Cambodia, where women are often victims of male dominance and violence.

The human rights organization LICADHO had reported that in 2009, they had investigated 278 violations of children’s rights (18% more than 2008), where the age range and the gender distribution shows clearly that girls are the wast majority of victims; 209 cases related to rape.

The situation of about 4,000 female beer promoters, working in the entertainment industry – mainly women serving males – had received attention in the media from time to time, showing again gender based power and exploitation relations, related to the economic survival for many women, but leading to early death for many of them. Among the 900 beer promoters in Siem Reap, about 10% died from AIDS during the last seven years – they were, in the average, at the time of their death, 25 years old.

The mortality rate of mothers at childbirth in Cambodia is the highest in the region.

And while there are estimates that the workers in the garment industry – mostly women – produce about 80% of the export earnings of the country, they are not praised and recognized highly in society for what they do. The office of the German Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Singapore, the Better Factories Cambodia-Program of the International Labor Organization, and the German Cambodian Cultural Center Meta House, have jointly, while monitoring the Cambodian textile industry, produced documentation about the life of these women, who are, in spite of their contribution to the national economy, not receiving the recognition in society for what they achieve.

Other examples could be added, showing that women are far from having half the say in Cambodian society. But to refer here to these examples is not in any way to indicate hopelessness – quite to the contrary. Changes in power distribution in any society do not happen automatically, but change happens when people want to make change, and are committed to dedicate themselves to it. So the more that 600 women who heard the speech of the Prime Minister directly, and all other people – women and men – who by now know about it, are called to see that this vision is not forgotten, but that it is implemented, step by step.

Of course to have women established in public office does not guarantee automatic change. But The Cambodia Daily reported an interesting observation on 4 November 2010: sexual violence in general, during the Khmer Rouge time, will not be investigated and prosecuted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [ECCC], because it is considered not to have been part of Khmer Rouge government policy. But a female lawyer, representing about 500 victims, says that things might have been arranged differently, had there been also women among the investigators at the ECCC. There seems to be evidence of cases that male rape perpetrators were not punished, if they were loyal party members.

Gender can change the perspective and orientation.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 689 - Thursday, 4.11.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror


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