Leaders of a Cambodian workers’ union on Wednesday urged an end to workplace violence and discrimination against women, while civil society organizations called on the government to take measures to protect female workers.
The calls came on International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8 since 1911 to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women worldwide.
Heng Chenda, the gender committee president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, used the occasion to call attention to the fact that sexual harassment and violations against women at the country’s ubiquitous garment factories still exist.
Furthermore, women who take part in union work are discriminated against, she said.
“Women who rise to leadership positions in a union are normally in the spotlight for intimidation and threats from their employers,” Heng Chenda said.
“They will be cajoled to quit the post or risk being harassed or mistreated,” she said. “Some women receive threats that they will be raped or beaten if they continue to be involved in union activity.”
More than 300 garment workers attended a ceremony during which confederation president Ath Thorn said female workers are still being threatened and harassed and have their rights abused in factories, the Khmer Times reported.
“This year, we celebrate International Women’s Day with the theme ‘stop violence against women in the labor sector’ because we see that female workers still face threats in their jobs and especially sexual harassment,” he was quoted as saying.
Ath Thorn told the garment workers that he had seen a copy of an upcoming International Labor Organization report that said that more than 100 women among 1,000 female garment workers faced routine harassment by their employers and managers, including sexual harassment, the Khmer Times report said.
About 700,000 people work long hours in the country’s garment and shoe factories in exchange for a minimum wage of about U.S. $153 a month.
CSOs weigh in
Cambodian civil society organizations issued a joint statement on Thursday urging the government to protect female workers by amending a trade union law to remove restrictions on registering unions, so that the law complies with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions that the country ratified in 1999.
They also called for the adoption of a universal minimum wage for all workers in all industries, and the ratification of ILO conventions on maternity protection, working conditions for domestic laborers, and the protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families.
"Discrimination happens in all sectors of industry, affecting female garment factory, entertainment, informal economy, migrant, and domestic workers both inside and outside the country,” the statement said.
The civil society organizations went on to urge the government to amend the country’s law on domestic violence and the protection of victims to comply with the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
They also called on the government to ensure the participation of women in the upcoming elections and guarantee the independence of the judicial system so that women have full access to justice.
‘Ensure dignity for women’
Meanwhile, in a public letter issued on Wednesday to commemorate International Women’s Day, Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said that the opposition party had recently offered more opportunities and given key roles to women.
He cited that a woman—Mu Sochua, a longstanding CNRP land and rights activist—was elected a party deputy leader at the CNRP’s extraordinary congress which met on March 2, and that the congress had endorsed lists of candidates that included more women for commune elections this year.
“By electing Mu Sochua as a deputy of the party, the CNRP has valued the significant roles women can play in society,” former CNRP President Sam Rainsy wrote on his Facebook page.
“I would like to elaborate on my vision of the rights and the future of Cambodian women on the occasion of International Women’s Day,” he said.
“To ensure dignity for Cambodian women, we have to ensure their financial independence, which implies providing them with decent jobs, which in turn requires fundamental reforms especially in the fields of education and vocational training,” he said.
“This is only possible with a change in mentality and a change in leadership, which will start with the June 4, 2017, commune council elections,” Sam Rainsy said.
During a public event in the capital Phnom Penh celebrating International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged government institutions to promote women to leadership positions.
“We should make it happen that a woman can be a governor of at least one province out of the [country’s] 25 provinces,” he said.
Reported by Maly Leng and Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.