Cambodian women’s job prospects hit by pandemic: Study

The employment prospects of women and girls, who are overrepresented in economic sectors like the garment industry and tourism in Cambodia, have been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, says a study conducted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

A case study titled ‘Valuing and investing in unpaid care and domestic work’, observed that women and girls in the country are especially vulnerable in the face of this economic reversal.

According to the report, as much as 60 percent of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises had been owned by women in the country. They are often not formally registered and hence unable to avail themselves of government benefits. The report called for a strong focus on gender-responsive policy measures to address the situation.

“In conjunction with women’s greater share of unpaid care and domestic work within households, it is imperative for the country to keep a strong focus on gender-responsive policy measures to tackle the setbacks from the pandemic as well as to accelerate women’s participation in and contribution to the economy,” the report noted.

“The prime minister’s address on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022 highlighted the theme of ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’. He underscored the crucial importance of all stakeholders, including the private sector, in recognising the value of unpaid care work and thus identifying ways to reduce the workload of women and girls while increasing public investment in care and social welfare services,” the report said.

As Cambodia assumes the role of Asean chair and leads the second Asean Women Leaders’ Summit in 2022, this message reaffirms the government’s commitment to gender equality and the critical role of women in leadership, it noted.

The study further observed that despite the impressive economic performance over the past few decades, Cambodia continues to lag behind its Asean neighbours in terms of progress towards gender equality.

“The Gender Development Index, prepared as part of the UNDP Human Development Index 2020, ranks Cambodia in group 4, which is medium-to-low gender equality between men and women.” It said the female labour force participation (76.9 percent) is one of the highest in the Asean region, alongside the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Viet Nam, but it still lags that of men (at 87.7 percent).

“Despite the high female labour force participation, the gender wage gap prior to the pandemic was 19 percent. The high participation rate of women in paid work must be kept in perspective, with the fact that 93.8 per cent of these women are engaged in informal employment. This means that women are subject to precarious work conditions, low wages and the lack of social security benefits on account of self employment or being employed as domestic workers,” read the report.

Women are also underrepresented in senior managerial positions in the private sector. “They account for 29.3 percent of migrant workers, with a major flow towards Thailand. Availability of time and access to resources, finance, IT are some of the other barriers to women’s full and effective participation in an economic capacity,” the report said.