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Lingering Women’s Issues Mark International Centennial

Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho.
Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho.

With International Women’s Day marking its 100th anniversary on Tuesday, Cambodian women say the country’s development is jeopardized by its lack of inclusion of women.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without more participation by women in politics and other important decision-making, said Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho.

“If we marginalize women, women at first will be patient,” she said. “But someday women won’t be able to endure it any longer, and then society will not have stability. And if there is no stability in society, it means it is difficult to develop society.”

She pointed to domestic violence, reports of which has increased in recent years, along with rape, as detrimental to development, as well as human trafficking.

Licadho counted 210 cases of reported domestic violence in 2010, up from 200 the year before. The group counted 300 rapes, mostly against children, last year, up from 260 in 2009.

Children who grow up in these environments carry it forward, she said.

“Fore males, when they have their own families, they act out violence themselves,” she said. “And for females, as well, when they have husbands and children, then women commit violence against their children.”

“Look and behold, the negative impact is not just in the present, but more in the future,” she said.

In Cambodia’s population of roughly 14 million, about 51.5 percent are female, according to the latest data. But women are underrepresented in politics at every level. Pung Chhiv Kek said the government is making effort to change this, but a wide gap remains.

There has been a large increase in women in commune councils and in district and provincial offices, said Lim Mony Dep, chief othe women’s unit for the rights group Adhoc. However, many of those roles remain at a deputy level, which means they do not make decisions.

“When we do not give them power to make decisions, then we can’t achieve the plan,” she said. “That is the problem.”

She also pointed to violence, rape and trafficking as pressing issues for women that hamper development.

“If these cases happen to women and young girls, then you lose the resources of women,” she said. “That means the participation of women in politics is reduced.”

For International Women’s Day, Adhoc was promoting education through a series of theater performances in the province, while Licadho was focusing on education and women in prison.

About 1,000 women are incarcerated nationwide. Many have their children with them in order to take of them, and others are pregnant, Pung Chhiv Kek said.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi was not immediately available for comment. However, she has said in the past the country must address the problems of violence and trafficking.

In its development plan for 2010 to 2014, the government hopes to develop a law to curb domestic violence and protection its victims.