20 January 2006

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Considers Cambodia's Report; "Code of Conduct", Trafficking, Quotas among Issues Addressed

NEW YORK, 19 January (UN Headquarters) -- While praising Cambodia for enacting measures to protect women from violence and exploitation, and for developing policies to widen their access to jobs, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted the need to broaden the reach of those measures to the larger population, including rural women.

The Committee's 23 experts, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

As the Committee considered Cambodia's combined initial, second and third periodic report on its compliance with the Convention, they focused particularly on women's lack of knowledge regarding their rights, as well as their lack of access to legal assistance.  In addition, negative stereotypes about women were reinforced by a customary code of conduct for women, taught to all Cambodian schoolchildren, with provisions such as "never turn your back to your husband when he sleeps" and "never respond to his excessive anger".

Indeed, traditional stereotypes and harmful provisions affected women more than men, one expert remarked, and urged that steps be taken to eradicate such provisions, or else have a similar code of conduct introduced for men.

Introducing Cambodia's reports, Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women's Affairs, said her country had emerged from a period of internal conflict, but was still marked by a "culture of violence" directed at women, in the form of domestic violence, trafficking in women, and rape.  Pointing out that such violence was a multidimensional phenomenon, Committee experts said that it was important to educate the police and judiciary on the notion of gender equality itself, so that the laws were applied effectively.

Prostitution and trafficking, which one expert described as taking place at a shocking extent, was seen as evidence that the judicial system was not effective in applying that law.  She expressed a hope that "the culture of impunity" would be terminated soon.

Many difficulties in the efforts to promote gender equality related to the fact that over 90 per cent of such posts were occupied by men, Ms. Ing admitted.  In view of the low level of women's representation in elected and decision-making posts, several experts proposed quotas.

In that connection, Ms. Ing said that, unfortunately, many in Cambodia perceived the gender concept as "a women's problem".  Quotas of 30 per cent had already been suggested for female political party candidates and Government positions, but they were not accepted by the Constitutional Council.  Now, it was being proposed that 30 per cent of elected positions be set aside for women.  However, society in general was not supportive of such quotas.  One success in that regard related to the governance action plan, which said 30 per cent of new recruits should be women.  At the local level, one third of village representatives were supposed to be female.

Concerns were also raised regarding the rural population, and the Committee questioned whether they truly felt the Government's efforts to remedy gender inequality.  It was suggested that a creative method of campaigning, such as through puppet theatres or plays, be adopted in order to reach rural women, who were often illiterate.  As one expert said, it was important not only to provide opportunities for women, but also ensure access to those opportunities to produce de facto equality.

Throughout the meeting, Ms. Ing openly reported the difficulties encountered by the Government in achieving its gender equality goals, saying that a good analysis of gender concerns was needed, before policy decisions could be taken.  The Government also needed adequate funding to implement gender equality goals, a fact well recognized by the Minister.

The Committee will take up Thailand's reports at 10 a.m. Friday, 20 January.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Cambodia's combined initial, second and third periodic reports on implementation of the Convention (CEDAW/C/KHM/1-3).  Cambodia ratified the Convention on 15 October 1992 and had also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

The report states that the Ministry of Women's and Veteran's Affairs (MOWVA) is Cambodia's primary entity charged with developing policies for the advancement of women, and had developed a Five-Year Plan (1999-2003) in four areas:  education, health, empowerment of women in the economic sector, and legal protection.  Meanwhile, the Cambodian National Council for Women -- with the Minister of Women's and Veteran's Affairs as its president -- is tasked with implementing the Convention.

Although the Convention was ratified by the Government, there is no proper definition of the term "discrimination against women" in the national Constitution.  So far, the Government has relied on the definition provided in the Convention as the basis for drawing up national laws ensuring the equal rights of men and women in all fields.  There is currently no law specifying discrimination against women as a criminal offence, though such laws exist with regard to national, racial and religious discrimination.

The term is recognized and used in legal documents, but, despite that, loopholes do exist in practical terms.  As an example of continuing discrimination, the report cites the lack of equal pay between men and women in construction work, where female workers often receive less pay than men for doing the same job.

The Ministry of Justice has been examining and modifying a draft criminal code, which would condemn acts of gender discrimination, such as the refusal, on the basis of sex, to give property or services; to provide property or services, or to hire.  That draft will soon be submitted to the National Assembly and Senate for approval.  Also by the Cambodian Constitution, domestic laws that are not in harmony with the Convention cannot be implemented.  To that end, the Government established a Constitutional Council to review the constitutionality of laws.

Another law with a notable impact on women includes the Law on Suppression of Kidnapping, Trafficking/Sale and Exploitation of Human Persons.  But, the report notes that "court deficiencies" and weak law enforcement hampers its effects, including the presence of "opportunists in both the competent authority and amongst the offenders to obtain profit individually" from cases under review.  In addition, the Law on Suppression of Kidnapping, Trafficking/Sale and Exploitation of Human Person is not harmonized with the Law on Immigration, raising additional difficulties.

Aside from legal mechanisms to fight gender discrimination, special measures to ensure the equal participation of women in decision-making have been taken, including through the creation of Women and Children's Committees at the local (commune/sangkat) level.  The Government has also authorized the Ministry of Interior, working alongside MOWVA, to select a woman to serve on commune/sangkat councils if none exist.  Another law states that at least one among three village leaders (Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant) must be a woman, and that 40 per cent of Village Development Committees must be female.  The Government has implemented such measures as a pilot within a small and low-level framework, such as the village or commune/sangkat level, but has not introduced it to the central administrative level.

In the area of education, measures are in place to help female students in selection to the next stage of education, where, if the scores are the same between females and males, preference will be given to female students.

However, the report notes that special measures have not yet been translated widely into practical action.  It cites a "lack of deep understanding" for the need to create Women and Children's Committees at the level of local government, saying that some people believed that women lacked the ability to do their jobs on an equal basis with men.  At a more general level, the report says the deep-rooted cultural and social patterns, norms and attitudes, and stereotyped roles limited women's access to political and public life.  Lack of adequate education, family support and lack of control over resources are also factors that hinder participation in public life.  Most ministries have not developed gender-mainstreaming strategies and their senior leadership do not understand or take seriously the need to address gender disparities in policy development and implementation.

Introduction of Reports

Presenting her country's reports, ING KANTHA PHAVI, Minister of Women's Affairs, expressed regret at the delay of its submission, explaining that it was due to political instability during the last 10 years, and that the Government had only decided to hand that responsibility to the Cambodian National Council for Women in 2001, despite having ratified the Convention in 1992.

Ms. Ing said that, after more than 25 years of armed conflicts, isolation and displacement, Cambodia had emerged as a multiparty liberal democracy following United Nations-supervised elections in May 1993.  Economic growth had accelerated since then, with the aid of external assistance, as well as growing private sector investment.  However, unemployment remained high, and globalization had created growing disparities and hardships that had impacted large parts of society, in particular women and the vulnerable.

She added that high levels of domestic violence, trafficking in women, and rape were prevalent in the post-conflict "violence culture", exacerbated by poverty and unequal power relations, despite the principle of gender equality established in the Constitution in 1993.  Discrimination was due to low levels of education, lack of knowledge regarding their rights, and poor access to legal assistance.

Regarding the extent to which the Convention was reflected in the Constitution, the Ministry of Justice was preparing a draft criminal code, which would provide punishments in cases where gender discrimination took place.  In addition, the Constitution also contained principles such as equality before the law, and the freedom of women to stand as candidates for election.

The Secretariat of Women's Affairs, established in 1993 and upgraded to the Ministry of Women's and Veterans Affairs in 1998 -- later becoming, simply, the Ministry of Women's Affairs -- currently promoted an action plan to promote gender equality and empowerment of women, called "Women Are Precious Gems", emphasizing five areas:  economic empowerment, health, education, legal protection, and women and governance.

Ms. Ing reported that Cambodia had increasingly been successful in having gender mainstreaming in policies and programmes, with monitoring and evaluation systems in place, including a July 2004 policy called the "Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Efficiency and Equity", which, among other things, sought to change the social attitudes that discriminated against women, and to ensure the rights of women to actively and equally participate in nation-building.

Ms. Ing highlighted some concrete achievements, the increased enrolment in primary and secondary schools in both rural and remote areas, spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.  That Ministry had also been collecting sex-disaggregated data and strategies to allocate funds to provide scholarships for female students from remote areas, disadvantaged areas and ethnic groups; operating literacy classes for illiterate people, many of whom were female; and conducting campaigns to encourage parents to send daughters to school.

She also spoke of cross-border programmes focused on preventing and combating human trafficking, and the enactment of a five-year National Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children 2000-2004, covering prevention, protection, prosecution, and rehabilitation and reintegration of victims.  In addition, the Ministry of Interior had made efforts to collect information on human trafficking through its Department of Anti-Trafficking and Juvenile Protection.

Also, a law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims came into force in October 2005, which targets husbands, wives and children and other household members, to prevent and protect domestic violence victims, she said.

A mechanism to integrate a gender perspective into how the Government handled migration issues was also in place, involving the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).  In rural areas, a loan by the Asian Development Bank had made possible a programme to encourage the hiring of women in the agricultural sector.  Another industry where women are encouraged to play a bigger role is the tourism sector, while a national employment and training strategy was also being developed with the International Labour Organization (ILO), to aid women migrants.

However, Ms. Ing said that such legal and administrative measures had not always been fully effective, because gender issues were still not deeply understood.  While there had been "excellent endorsement" of the Convention by the Government, greater commitment was needed from decision makers in ministries to implement those policies.  Greater influence and action also required a more integrated gender-budgeting process, as well as the right people to lobby for gender issues to be included in narratives, activities, indicators and targets of those policies.

Indeed, she added, the belief that men were the heads of families and had the right to discipline women and children with violence continued to be widely held.

Experts' Questions and Comments

As the Committee started its article-by-article consideration of the implementation of the Convention in Cambodia, several experts welcomed the candid nature of today's presentation and commended Cambodia for such actions as recent enactment of the law on the domestic violence and protection of the victims.

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she was impressed with the presentation and addressed the issue of direct and indirect discrimination against women.  Indirect discrimination occurred when a neutrally formulated law had a negative impact on women.  It seemed that a neutrally formulated law on land in Cambodia had such an effect, due to women's circumstances.  Had there been a discussion of that problem in the Government?  Did reform plans address the nature of discrimination?  She also questioned the practice of separation between women's and human rights.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, lauded the country's efforts to combat domestic violence, as well as a new education law prohibiting corporal punishment in school.  She asked whether a public-awareness campaign had been undertaken by the Government to familiarize the population with the new legal provisions in respect of domestic violence.  Did it target men, as well as women?  Traditional stereotypes and harmful procedures affected women more than men -- was that taken into consideration?  She also had questions concerning measures to train female legal officials and law enforcement officers and a system of monitoring the implementation of the new education law, as was the case with a recent law on domestic violence.

Like Ms. Pimentel, FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, was concerned about the ways the country's new law on domestic violence was being implemented.  She said that violence against women was a multidimensional phenomenon, which took a terrible toll on both women and society, in general.  General comment 19 of the Committee spoke of violence as a key aspect of discrimination.  Men were often deaf to women's complaints, and some women might hesitate to report such offences.  For that reason, it was important to inform all the actors involved of the new legislation.  What was being done to raise awareness and train all the people involved in law enforcement?  She also asked about the statistics and educational measures in connection with domestic violence.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, welcomed the fact that the new draft criminal code now addressed various offences against women.  Did that include all forms of discrimination against women, as it should?  She had heard that male civil servants received dependent allowances, but women did not.  Was that correct?  Was sexual harassment addressed by the new code?  The Convention prohibited any discrimination against women, so all acts of discrimination should be addressed by the Government.  She also insisted that court procedures had to be accessible to women and wanted to know what had been done to make the legal system women-friendly in Cambodia.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked about the country's efforts at harmonizing domestic laws with the provisions of the Convention.  Had Cambodia's constitutional council that was responsible for the review of laws made concrete proposals on the laws and provisions that should be amended or declared null and void?  She also asked what was being done to make the public aware of the changes that were needed.

Several experts inquired about the Convention's status in Cambodia's domestic law.  CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, and DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked if an individual could invoke the Convention directly in a court of law.  Mr. FLINTERMAN also asked if the members of the judiciary were aware of this instrument's provisions and had questions regarding the efforts to establish independence of the judiciary in the country.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIC said that, since the country was now making its initial presentation, it was important to clarify the status of the Convention from the start.  She also insisted that the definition of discrimination against women should be included in the Constitution, and domestic law and sanctions should be provided for non-compliance.

The Committee's Chairperson, ROSARIO G. MANALO, in her capacity as an expert from the Philippines, spoke about the code of conduct that was taught to Cambodian women and expected from them.  Was that a State or customary law?  In any case, what steps were being taken to eradicate such provisions, or introduce a similar code of conduct for men?

Country Response

Ms. ING then responded to the experts' questions, accompanied by other members of Cambodia's delegation, including You Ay, Secretary of State, Ministry of Women's Affairs; Ouk Monna, Secretary of State, Ministry of Health; Sin Serei, Secretary-General of the Royal Government of Cambodia; Huor Serei, Secretary-General of the National Council for Women; Chan Sotheavy, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice; Sok Chan Chhovy, Deputy Director-General, Ministry of Women's Affairs; Nhim Van Chankan, Deputy Inspector-General, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; Kim Son, Deputy Director, Ministry of Women's Affairs; You Pasith, Assistant to the Chair of the National Council for Women; Kong Sam Aun, Director, Ministry of Women's Affairs; Tung Rathavy, Vice-President of the Health Centre for Mothers and Infants; and Ly Vichuta, Interpreter.

Regarding the Cambodian code of conduct, "shbab srey", Ms. Ing explained that, while it was true that it was taught in schools, it was more a matter of national identity, rather than a factual subject to be analysed or discussed in class.  As such, if and when such principles were found to run counter to the needs of present-day society, it was possible to amend them in a process involving a broad set of stakeholders, including civil society.

Turning to the subject of civil remedies, there were several points of entry for aggrieved women seeking redress, she said.  The Ministry of Women's Affairs itself received complaints, as did the Women's Commission -- a body within the Cambodian Senate - and non-governmental organizations.  Those entities would then initiate a complaint in court on a woman's behalf.  Further, a new decision by the Prime Minister would soon allow officers of the Ministry to act as a "judiciary police", so that officers could initiate complaints in court more speedily.  In addition, the Ministry had established a Rape Unit to deal specifically with that serious crime.

She added that several ministries including her own, were in the process of drafting a three-year plan of action for an information campaign on the Domestic Violence Law.  It would target judges, law enforcement officials, as well as the general public, and would emphasize the criminal nature of domestic violence, moving it outside the sphere of private family life.  Furthermore, judges would be instructed on aspects beyond punishment, such as prevention and victim counselling.  The law gave chiefs of village/commune the power to intervene in domestic violence cases, she added.  To preserve the family unit, first-time offenders would be given a chance to correct their behaviour, rather than being sent directly to jail.

However, negotiations were still undergoing regarding the new criminal code and, thus, judges could not yet apply its provisions.  But, she added, the government policy on gender equity meant that the Ministry was bound to address any complaints or issues that arose.

Regarding the role of the Constitutional Council, Ms. Ing said its task was to provide feedback to the Senate on whether proposed laws were constitutional or not, but it was not mandated to review laws.  Rather, that task fell on the line ministries, such as the Ministries of the Interior, Women's Affairs, and others.  As yet, there were no mechanisms to inform the public of such changes to the law.

Monitoring mechanisms were not working as effectively as expected, she said, acknowledging the need to develop it further with clear indicators and benchmarks.  However, the Ministry of Education did conduct monitoring on a regular basis through its Inspection Unit, she pointed out.  Also, there was a need to create a more gender-responsive statistical database.

Another delegate said that it was recognized that the judiciary was not completely independent of the executive body, and that was one of the reasons that judicial reform was currently being undertaken.

Experts' Comments

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, expressed appreciation to the Government for its efforts to improve the situation of women in the country.  At the same time, she wanted to know if gender mainstreaming was consistently incorporated in Cambodia's plans, including its main macro-development plan.  It was important not only to provide opportunities for women, but also ensure access to those opportunities.  That would provide de facto equality.  What lessons had the Government learned from its efforts to ensure gender mainstreaming in the country's poverty-eradication strategy?  Who was directly responsible for gender mainstreaming?                                                                                                                                             

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, joined her colleagues in congratulating the Government for its efforts and the openness of its reporting on the difficulties it encountered.  While she had noted the vagueness of some of the formulations in the report, some of the answers provided today had alleviated some of those concerns.  She wanted to know what effective mechanisms were in place to implement the Government gender-equality strategies.  Another question she asked related to the situation of vulnerable groups of women, including women with disabilities.

Country Response

Responding to those questions, Ms. ING said that the process of gender mainstreaming had started in 2000.  The country had faced a long political crisis, when the provisions of various international instruments had not been taken into account.  Gender equality goals could not be achieved without their mainstreaming in various ministries.  While gender focal points had been used in the past, they had not proven effective, because they were not at a decision-making level.  For that reason, in 2004, the focal points were upgraded to action groups within various ministries, headed by members at high decision-making positions.

The lessons learned from the country's initial experience in gender mainstreaming included the fact that a participatory approach was of great importance, with contributions from civil society and non-governmental organizations, she continued.  A good analysis of gender concerns was needed before policy decisions were taken.  The country's first gender assessment was carried out in 2004.  Aside from policy commitment, financial commitments were needed.  To mainstream gender equality goals in various spheres, the Government was endeavouring to elaborate its main strategies, with appropriate financing.

She then elaborated on the respective roles of various mechanisms for the advancement of women.  Regarding the role of the National Council for Women, she said that it had been created to monitor the implementation of the gender equality policy of the Government.  It also reported on the compliance with the Convention and relevant government policies.  The Department of Gender Mainstreaming was responsible for working with various ministries. Tasked with mobilizing resources, providing technical assistance, monitoring the obstacles and providing feedback to the Government were technical working groups, which were composed of representatives from ministries, donors, non-governmental organizations and international organizations.

Ethnic minorities and disabled women were among the most vulnerable groups, but the Government was forced "to choose its priorities among the priorities".  The emphasis was placed on the majority of the women first, and the vulnerable groups second.  Now, efforts were being made to improve the literacy rates among ethnic groups and minorities.

Experts' Questions

KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said that she did not understand how it was possible to fight domestic violence without challenging the code of conduct for women.  The code included such provisions as "never turn your back to your husband when he sleeps" and "never respond to his excessive anger".  In fact, the code was part of keeping women in inferior and subservient positions.  It also gave men the power to discipline women who violated the code.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that the delegation had candidly admitted the persistence of sexual stereotypes, and it was very important for its efforts to promote the advancement of women.  However, she was not sure the Government fully took into account the complexity of the issue.  She was not sure that respect for women as mothers was always positive, for example.  In some cases, it could even exacerbate the stereotypes, forming a form of indirect discrimination.  Stereotypes should also be addressed in the field of education.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noted an "over-abundance" of male judges in Cambodia's judicial system.  What was being done to address that situation?  Also, how was the Government combating the corruption in the justice system?  Even if a single woman was left behind, gender equality could not be achieved.

On the issue of rape, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that the way a State criminalized that offence was closely related to the cultural norms.  The Committee had been informed that, in past years, there had been serious under-reporting of rape cases in Cambodia.  Today, the Committee had heard that a rape unit had been created to address the problem, and he wanted to receive additional information in that regard.  Was the unit involved in the training of legal officials and efforts to change cultural stereotypes?  Was rape in the context of marriage punishable under Cambodia's law?

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that Cambodia's old tradition of a matriarchal culture was in conflict with a more recently introduced influence of a patriarchal nature.  It was commendable that efforts were being made to revive the old tradition of respect for women.  Part of it was trying to transform old attitudes, which manifested themselves in discriminatory proverbs and sayings.  As an example, she cited an old saying in her country, which said "when a hen cries, the whole family will go bankrupt", implying the wasteful nature of women.  However, the women's movement refused to accept such "folk wisdom" and changed the saying to "when a hen cries, it lays an egg", thus making the family richer.  Women's courses and education campaigns were also important.

Country Response

Ms. ING acknowledged that implementing the Domestic Violence Law would be difficult.  She stressed again that an educational campaign would be launched on the issue, so that society as a whole would be involved in reducing the culture of violence.  But, the process would be evolutionary because gender stereotypes were so deeply entrenched in the Cambodian mindset.

She reminded the Committee that 90 per cent of the country's decision makers were men, and that supporters of the Domestic Violence Law had at one point been branded as "revolutionaries" by members of the establishment.

One way to educate rural inhabitants about gender-specific laws was to hold plays, she added.  Also, school books were being reviewed in order to remove stereotypical images, and issues such as gender equity and human rights would be added, so that Cambodians would be exposed to such concepts at an early age.  While the introduction of gender studies at the university level was desirable, it was hampered by a lack qualified professionals in that field.

Positive discrimination had been instituted in the school of judges, in the form of scholarships for women, as well as the creation of special dormitories at those schools.  She added that a request had been put forward to the Ministry of the Interior to increase the number of women on the police force, to help deal with rape victims, in particular.

Experts' Questions

Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, addressed the issue of trafficking, saying that number of victims was increasing and the judicial system did not seem effective in applying that law.  She expressed a hope that "the culture of impunity" would be terminated.

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, stressed again that the most vulnerable members of society must also receive the message, and recommended that resources be given to civil society organizations to help the Government in their educational campaigns.

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that no accurate date had been provided on trafficking, but some research showed that up to 60 per cent of prostitutes had been trafficked for that purpose.  There was an appalling number of victims.  The report also provided a long list of measures and initiatives, but there was no information on their effectiveness.  Did the country have a comprehensive programme on trafficking?  What support was being provided for the victims?

Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, wanted to know the Government's attitude towards prostitution and trafficking, the extent of which was really shocking in Cambodia.  According to the reports before the Committee, there were at least 300 clandestine brothels, with thousands of women working there.  Some 35 per cent of prostitutes were under 18 years of age, and 65 per cent were forced into that profession.  Now, there was also an artificial term of "indirect commercial sex workers" -- she did not know what that meant.  Increasingly, men were bringing HIV/AIDS to their own wives, who then passed it to their babies.                                                                                                                                             

Country Response

Ms. ING said that her Government recognized that trafficking was one of the main forms of abuse.  Cambodia's trafficking law was not just on children -- it also sought to prevent both women and children from being exploited.  A new, more comprehensive draft was now being considered, focusing not just on punishment, but also on the protection of victims.  The Government was committed to fighting trafficking.  A special unit had been established at the Ministry of the Interior.  The number of successful prosecutions of perpetrators was increasing.

Concerning prostitution, she said that the Government was not accepting it.  Her Ministry sought to provide decent work for women.  It did not support any forms of employment that were degrading to women.  The Government's efforts included education and literacy programmes, vocational training, establishment of business-oriented centres, training on life skills and social issues, as well as prevention of HIV/AIDS.  Additional financial resources now were being sought for those activities.

Experts' Comments

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, expressed her appreciation to the Government for its efforts to increase women's participation in political and public life.  She also asked about the number of female senators and wanted to know if there were any quotas to increase women's participation in public life.  Were men required to participate in training on gender-related issues?

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, commented on the high level of the country's representation today and stressed the importance of the fact that the country had ratified the Convention without any reservations.  Introduction of quotas would be very useful, she suggested.  It was also necessary to align the country's legislation with the Convention.

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, agreed with Cambodia's delegation that the difficulties experienced by the Government related to the fact that over 90 per cent of the posts were occupied by men.  She wanted to know why so few women were being elected at the local level.  Women were also rare among the appointees to Government posts.  In view of resistance to change, progressive quotas should be introduced.

Country Response

Ms. ING said that, unfortunately, many in Cambodia perceived the gender concept as "a women's problem".  Various structures tended to send female representatives to workshops and seminars on gender issues, for example.  Now, following several campaigns to raise awareness, there was better understanding among men.  However, strong advocacy was still needed to push "our male partners" to action.

With assistance from non-governmental organizations, leadership and negotiating training had recently been organized for women in several provinces, she continued.  Women were also taught to advocate for themselves.  The understanding of gender issues had not spread nationwide, yet.  In many cases, women voters were not voting for women politicians, for example.  It was necessary to address that problem.

Quotas of 30 per cent for female political party candidates and similar quotas for Government had been proposed, but not accepted by the Constitutional Council.  Now, it had been proposed that 30 per cent of elected positions be set aside for women.  However, society in general was not supportive of such quotas, and a serious debate had started on that issue.  One success in that regard related to the governance action plan, which stipulated that 30 per cent of new recruits must be women.  At the local level, one third of village representatives were supposed to be female.

Experts' Questions

Turning to education, VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, again addressed the impact on Cambodia's traditional code of conduct for women on educational reform.  She questioned the effectiveness of a reform process where girls were taught simultaneously about gender equality and "how to make their husbands happy".

She suggested that a systematic assessment was needed on the discriminatory dimension of the traditional code of conduct, while saying that not all provisions of that code were necessarily discriminatory.  The results of such an assessment should be included in Cambodia's next periodic report.  Also, serious consideration must be given to a balanced professional orientation of both male and female students, so that women were not discouraged from pursuing work in the technical or agricultural sector.

Noting the big gender disparity between women and men in education, Ms. ŠIMONOVIC asked whether the Government saw a link between the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention, and between the Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Country Response

Ms. ING assured the Committee that the Government did, indeed, take other international agreements into account when crafting its gender equality measures, pointing out that the "Women are Precious Gems" programme was inspired by the Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Addressing the question of education for females, she said there was a policy to increase functional literacy among women.  Unfortunately, a large number of primary school dropouts were girls.  Although they could read by the time they left school, they were effectively illiterate.  Among the strategies adopted by the Ministry of Education to address the problem was to combine its literacy programme with vocational training courses.  She acknowledged that a labour division did exist in Cambodian society, and said it was up to the awareness campaign to shift the national vision regarding women's roles in society, especially of parents.

Experts Questions

Regarding the article on equality in employment, SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, praised the Government's efforts to include a gender perspective in its measures to migration.  She asked whether the Government was collecting data on migrants, and if so, wanted to know the exact number of Cambodian women who worked in brothels abroad.  Also, what was the difference in men's and women's wages?  Was Cambodia following International Labour Organization (ILO) standards with regard to wages?

Following up on the question on migration, Ms. DAIRIAM asked about the human traffickers and whether they were being prosecuted under Cambodian migration law.  Also, she had seen a report stating that the beginning age of workers in Cambodia was 10 years, and asked if child labour was indeed allowed in the country.

Turning to the effect of global trade on the garment industry, she urged the creation of long-term training strategies for those workers, who were mostly female, so that they could improve their skills.

Noting the special protection given to pregnant employees, Ms. PATTEN asked whether similar measures were given to other types of incapacities.  Also, women were mostly in the informal sector, due to lack of other opportunities.  It was thought that the lack of bargaining power due to gender inequality was its main cause, and she asked what the Government was doing to address that issue.  Also, what mechanism was in place to adjudicate matters of wage gaps, and to address disputes relating to conditions of employment, health and safety?  She urged the delegates to include data on sexual harassment in its next report, as well as information on measures taken to protect women against such harassment.

Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING asked whether the reference to "economically active persons" included women working on family land and other areas of the informal economy.

Country Response

Ms. ING first addressed the questions regarding Cambodia's migration policies, saying that the Ministry for Women's Affairs was currently in discussion with the ministries of labour, foreign affairs and the interior on a policy to protect the interest of Cambodian workers, especially women.  The fact that no "real" migration policy existed was the reason why Cambodia faced problems in the trafficking of women and children.  Because the rate of unemployment was so high, the Government was loathe to institute a strict migrant policy.

It was, however, beginning to monitor the flow of illegal migrants into Thailand, through an inspection channel at the Ministry of Labour, she continued.  While there was a desire to help migrants improve their language, and other skills, for their work abroad, it was generally understood that the work offered to most of those women was domestic work, and not of high added value.  The idea to set up labour attachés in Cambodian embassies to ensure follow-up in those countries had been voiced.

On child labour, she said it did exist, unofficially, within the framework of the family business, but was officially viewed as illegal.

Regarding the gap in salaries between men and women, the Ministry of Labour had a policy to inspect private sector businesses to assess health and safety conditions, as well as to see that maternity leave and other benefits were being respected.  Although they had identified the gap, she said that businesses often cited women's low qualifications as a reason that their wages were not equivalent to that of their male counterparts.

On the effect of trade reform and globalization and the end of quotas on the garment sector, a project jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Labour, supported by the Asian Development Bank, would identify ways to diversify training for women, as well as ways to help existing businesswomen to sustain their businesses.  That would include providing them with access to credit.

Commenting on sexual harassment, another delegate said that it would be regarded as a crime in the draft criminal code.  Also, laws preventing a woman from losing her job upon pregnancy did, indeed, exist.

On child labour, Ms. ING said that the statistics were available only for the formal sector.  The country was now undertaking research into the informal sector, as well.


Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, remarked that Cambodia had a very high rate of maternal mortality.  A contributory factor in that respect was the low development of emergency care.  The number of deaths from complications could be reduced by increasing the number of trained birth attendants.  Only some 10 per cent of babies were delivered at health facilities.  How did the Health Ministry plan to rectify the situation?  What resources were being mobilized for that purpose?

Country Response

A member of the delegation replied that the Government was putting a strong effort into dealing with the problem.  While acknowledging the lack of emergency care and the problem of access to quality of health services, especially in remote and rural areas, she said that efforts were being made to improve the health-care system.  There were only some 800 health centres in the country, but there was a plan in place to build over 900 new centres in the future.  Grants and loans from international institutions would be used to build that infrastructure.  Efforts were being made to train qualified personnel, including midwives and doctors.  Delivery by skilled staff in rural areas had dramatically increased from 28 per cent to 58 per cent in the period from 2000 to 2004.  The Government was also cooperating with the private sector and non-governmental organizations to improve its health-care system.  Many midwives working at public hospitals now received annual refresher training.

Experts' Comments

Ms. ZOU said that the report enumerated various plans to guarantee rural women's participation, but lacked information on the implementation of such plans.  She wanted to receive additional information in that respect.  She also wondered about the situation as far as land ownership for women heads of households was concerned.

Ms. TAN noted that the implementation of the national poverty reduction strategy was still poor for women in rural areas, mostly because of budget constraints.  What concrete programmes was the Government currently running to educate rural women about social security programmes available to them and ensure their access to land?  What was the land policy for rural women?  Is women's right to land ownership respected in Cambodia?

Ms. PATTEN said that, with some 84 per cent of the country's population living in rural areas, rural women's situation acquired particular importance.  She wanted to know how the Government was addressing poverty among rural women and asked if a gender perspective was being incorporated in the country's agricultural plans.  Among her other questions were queries about the promotion of women's self-employment and credit programmes.

Ms. KHAN asked if the gender perspective was considered in the country's 2001 land law.  Specifically, were the land rights of minority groups and female heads of households taken into account?  Also, Cambodia's land concession policy had had a highly negative effect on rural women, and she asked if there were plans to reconsider it.

Ms. SIMMS asked if the Ministry of Women's Affairs had any plans to address the issue of sanitation, water and adequate housing for rural women.

Country Response

Ms. ING said it was difficult to respond to some of the questions, because she did not have much of the data requested by the experts.  Such information would be included in the country's next report.

Regarding microcredit, she said that men and women had equal access to it.  The new land law respected the principle that land titles would be available for joint ownership by man and wife.  In general, the land issue was a sensitive one.  Effective land titling did not exist and, in many cases, several owners could lay claim to the same plot of land.  A process of registration was now being initiated.

The National Committee on Land Management had determined that poor women and female heads of household, as vulnerable groups, should receive priority treatment under the land concession laws.  The country's community development programme focused on the development of rural areas, giving priority to gender issues.  The national budget was now being transformed to the programme budgeting system, which took into consideration the Government's priority activities.  She hoped that, as a result of that, sufficient funds would be provided to implement relevant programmes.

State social security was not available to female heads of household, she said, but a special solidarity fund had been established, with the help of the civil society, to address their needs.  Emphasis was also being placed on female entrepreneurship, easing access to credit and vocational training.  Information on market trends was being provided to rural communities.  Of course, the country was only at the beginning of that process, and more information would be included in the next report.

The Government was now trying to make social security programmes available to the rural poor, who had provided an input to the assessment of their needs, a member of the delegation added.  The priorities include health services, agricultural production, literacy programmes and vocational training.


In connection with the law on the prevention of domestic violence, Ms. TAN asked if it protected ex-wives from violence.  Must a victim file a divorce complaint before she could get protection under that law?  If that was the case, further reform was required.  Were polygamous marriages or relationships punished under the law?  How was the Government enforcing its prohibition on early or forced marriages?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI noted that marriage, inheritance and property rights in Cambodia were governed by the country's Family Code.  Women had little understanding or knowledge of their rights.  That was not in accordance with the Convention.  She wanted to know what was being done to educate the population.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH commended the country for adopting a comprehensive family law, but said that many obstacles to its effective implementation must be recognized.  Most of those obstacles related to traditional practices.  In many cases, women were not aware of their rights and were not empowered to enjoy their rights, letting their husbands make decisions for them.  In many cases, young women were still forced to enter into marriage against their will.  What was the Government doing to educate the population about their rights and obligations?  What was being done to overcome the negative traditional stereotypes?  Did any free schemes exist under which legal assistance could be provided to women?

Country Response

Regarding the Domestic Violence Law, Ms. ING said it targeted those living under the same roof, household members.  If the victim was a former wife, who did not live under the same roof as the perpetrator, the law did not apply.  But, she would be protected under a protection order, delivered by local authorities close to the house.

Another delegate addressed the question on polygamous marriages, saying that it would become a punishable act under the new criminal code.  In the case of divorce, she said that common property would be split equally between husband and wife.

Ms. ING then said part of the purpose of the current awareness campaign was to shift the mindset of both men and women, so that the concept of women's rights to equality was better understood.  It was necessary for society to realize that women could contribute actively to society, aside from the role of mother or wife.  However, to change the vision of a society required time, and she hoped that her delegate's next periodic report would contain more positive results.

Concluding Remarks

Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, Acting Chairperson, thanked the Cambodian delegates for their responses and expressed hope that their ongoing dialogue would contribute to the advocacy efforts, and help them receive financial aid to continue their efforts.  She looked forward to receiving concrete results in the country's next report.

Ms. ING thanked the Committee, saying that the Convention was a useful instrument in helping enlarge the Government's vision on gender issues.  Indeed, gender equality was an important component of the development process.

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