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Concern Grows Over Women’s Health, Equality

Lawmakers and health officials from the UN are meeting Friday over the country’s progress on maternal mortality and gender equality, as concern grows that Cambodia is failing to meet its development goals and is in some cases losing ground.

“The maternal mortality rate is still at a high level, and it hasn’t fallen like the Cambodian government wants,” Ping Chutema, director of the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia, told VOA Khmer on Thursday. “It is a very serious problem.”

Cambodia has so-called millennium development goals, which include lowering the rates of mothers who die in childbirth and improving gender equality, among others.

But Ping Chutema said for maternal mortality, the country is going in the wrong direction.

“In 2000, 437 women died in childbirth among 100,000; 472 died in 2005,” she said. “Our maternal mortality is still high, and our gender equality and empowerment of women is not yet equal. We have not reached the millennium development goals.”

Cambodian women still face problems of domestic violence, rape and trafficking, said Say Saravathany, director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, which took in more than 1,400 women in 2009.

“It affects a woman’s health in both body and feeling,” she said. “The majority of women suffer from domestic violence. They have no energy or heart to join in social development, and they are not brave enough to become leaders.”

And while the government does have an official policy to promote the rights and health of women, “it has not worked to implement it,” Ros Sopheap, director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said. “Women have the right to participate in decision-making at sub-national and national levels, but there is not gender equity.”

“If we compare gender equality and empowerment of women over the past 10 years, now there are steps forward,” she said. “But a step forward is still not reaching the level of equality.”

Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and former minister of women’s affairs, said there is time to reach the development goals, but the government needs to boost the national budget and prioritize education and health.

“Women’s decision-making in the community, or at sub-national and national levels is still very limited,” she said. “The millennium development goals remain far from the wishes of our Cambodians.”

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said Friday’s discussions will provide various theories and ideas on how the government can fulfill its development goals.