8 October 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Cambodia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Presenting the report Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, updated the Committee on new legislation relating to the prevention of discrimination against women. Remarkable achievements had been made in sexual and reproductive health, with a 60 per cent decrease in the maternal mortality rate, a world-leading response to the HIV AIDS epidemic, and great advancement in healthcare. Levels of violence against women had decreased, there was now almost gender equity in literary rates and gender parity had been achieved in primary and lower secondary education. Cambodia was committed to achieving full equality, especially in the most critical areas: access for women to upper-secondary and tertiary education, representation in politics, and participation in the formal economy.
Committee Members commended the delegation for its advances in several areas, including education, sexual and reproductive healthcare and legislation. They raised concerns about prostitution and migrant workers, particularly domestic workers. Rural women’s access to jobs and education was addressed, as was marital law, land-mine victims and women working in the garment industry. Gender-based crimes under the Khmer Rouge regime, and the prosecution of perpetrators by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal were also discussed.
The delegation of Cambodia included representatives of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the National Council for Women, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, the National AIDS Authority, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, the Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Phavi said Cambodia was committed to the implementation of the Convention and hoped that the Committee appreciated the progress it had made since its last report in 2006. The Government took into account the Committee’s last concluding remarks and addressed the challenges highlighted, and would again convey the recommendations to the highest levels.
Violeta Neubauer, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the recommendations of the Committee for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.
The Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 9 October at 10 a.m. when it will start its review of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Tajikistan.
The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Cambodia can be read via the link: (CEDAW/C/KHM/4-5).
Presentation of the Report
ING KANTHA PHAVI, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, listed relevant legislation on gender equality, such as the 2005 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims and its 2007 Explanatory Notes, which had been widely disseminated through media campaigns, printed documents and public forums; training on it was provided to legal officials, law enforcement officers, and public sector staff country wide, and it had been integrated into the curriculum of the Royal Academies for Police and the Judiciary. The 2008 Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, and its 2010 Explanatory Notes, sought to supplement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and provided penalties of up to 20 years for buying or selling a person. The 2009 New Penal Code criminalized rape and sexual violence by a spouse, sexual harassment and gender-based violence. Other new laws were the 2006 Law on Monogamy, the 2007 Civil Code, the 2007 Penal Procedure code and the 2009 Law on Tourism. Ms. Phavi also outlined the Government’s policy framework, strategies and national plans to prevent discrimination against women, and mechanisms for gender mainstreaming.
Remarkable achievements had been made in sexual and reproductive health, with a 60 per cent decrease in the maternal mortality rate in the last five years. Cambodia had earned a global reputation for its effective response to the HIV AIDS epidemic, and was one of a few countries on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 6. Many other advances in the field of healthcare had been made thanks to major investment in health infrastructure, including 1,400 new health centres and 82 new hospitals; by 2009 no health centre in Cambodia was without a midwife. Levels of violence against women by their partners had decreased by 15.8 per cent between 2000 and 2005; new surveys with United Nations partners were being carried out to obtain more up-to-date data. Overall, violence against women was less accepted today than it was five years ago, thanks to awareness-raising. In education, there was now almost gender equity in literary rates, with 67 per cent of women over 25 being literate, compared to 81 per cent of men. Gender parity had also been achieved in primary and lower secondary education, although large gaps remained in upper secondary and tertiary education.
Regarding women in employment, Ms. Phavi said women made up only one third of workers in the formal sector (27 per cent) but 82 per cent of the informal sector, which included self-employment and unpaid work, and was therefore more vulnerable. The gender gap was improving in agriculture and industry, but more attention was needed for the service sector, where the female share of wage employment remained low. The Cambodian Women’s Entrepreneurs Association, founded in 2011, supported women business leaders. Achievements in involving more women in politics and decision-making positions were listed, following a new policy that every Ministry must have at least one Woman Secretary of State and one under-Secretary of State; a minimum of one in every three commune village leaders should be a woman, that every province should have a woman Deputy Governor, and the raising of the retirement age for women to 60, on a voluntary basis. Perceptions and gender norms had to be changed in order to further empower women in politics and decision-making. Cambodia was committed to achieving full equality, especially in the most critical areas: access for women to upper-secondary and tertiary education, representation in politics, and participation in the formal economy.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert began the interactive dialogue by commending the State party for its dissemination and publication of the Convention, and asked about its status in domestic legislation, and why it and the Optional Protocol were not included in the Royal Gazette. She also asked why the Convention had never been invoked in a Cambodian court, and also about the prohibition of indirect discrimination. Could the delegation explain how the national mechanisms for women worked, and what the budget was. Another Expert asked about corruption in Cambodia and how that impacted upon women.
Elderly women in Cambodia were exposed to multifaceted discrimination, the Committee had been told. Elderly women faced violation of their rights the world over, an Expert commented, and asked how the State party analysed its statistics on discrimination faced by elderly women. What were the State party’s achievements in that field?
Cambodia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, an Expert noted, adding that women with disabilities were exposed to multifaceted discrimination. What was the Government doing to promote the rights of those women, and to protect them from all forms of violence, including in institutions.
Response by the Delegation
A delegation said that the Convention was disseminated in written form annually by the National Council for Women. The Convention and the Optional Protocol were not included in the Royal Gazette because of protocols, which set out that only laws passed that year were included. The entire Convention had been integrated and mainstreamed into domestic law, which was why lawyers did not need to invoke it in courts, as they simply based their cases on the national Constitution. Five cases were currently in the courts on employment discrimination, specifically on women not receiving the same salary as men for doing the same job.
Indirect discrimination could be seen in everyday life, a delegate said. She reminded the Committee that Cambodia only recently emerged from a war. Peace came in 1998, and the Convention, which was ratified in 1992, began to be implemented in practice in 2000. In 13 years Cambodia had made good progress, and could not have been expected to do more. The Committee had to take into account the level of education, cultural traditions and the history of the country.
The population of Cambodia was a young population, with 60 per cent being less than 30 years old, a delegate said. However, the Population Policy took into account people of all age groups, including elderly women. A community organization took care of elderly women, especially poor women, at a local level. The National Action Plan on Violence Against Women was aimed at all women, in all age groups, so violence against elderly women was dealt with inside that framework. Of course there was no employment for elderly women. The problem was the impact of labour migration from Cambodia due to a lack of local jobs for people, which meant that elderly women’s children were migrating for work, and leaving their children to be cared for by their grandparents. Villages were now populated by just elderly people and young children, as the middle generation had left to find work. ‘Social Safety Net’ and food security policies had been developed to help those families’ access basic services and needs.
It was true that, starting from scratch, the Government had had to first tackle priority areas, and more needed to be done for women with disabilities. A law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities had only been in place for five years, but that law even included a small quota on employment for persons with disabilities, of two per cent for both the public and private sector. The Government hoped to increase it to four per cent, as seen in France. There was a centre to provide specialized training, with equipment to cater for different kinds of disabilities, such as the blind, deaf and so on.
Explaining what the national mechanisms for women were, a delegate said that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was founded in 1993, following the reconciliation process; 1993 was the same year that the first elections were held in Cambodia, following 30 years of war. The Ministry’s mandate was to advance the status and situation of women in Cambodia, whose population of 13.3 million was 52 per cent women. Women were some way behind men, because of the war and poverty. By 2000, the Government discovered that one Ministry alone could not integrate gender policies, so it founded the National Council for Women that year. In order to increase political will, the Queen was made Honorary President and the Prime Minister was appointed Honorary Deputy President, while the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior became the Council’s two vice-chairpersons. The Council was further made up of representatives of 24 Ministries, key stakeholders and development partners, including civil society, to reflect that gender was a cross-cutting issue. The National Council met once a year to evaluate the effect of gender policies and legislation, although monitoring was still weak, mainly from the lack of comprehensive and inclusive indicators. The Technical Working Group on Gender worked with civil society to look at technical issues, and reported to the Council.
The Government was aware of the problem of corruption, especially among law enforcers and police officers. The State party said it could provide statistics on how many police officers, judges and prosecutors were fined or penalized for crimes of corruption.
Questions by the Experts
Regarding women’s inequalities in the public sphere, an Expert said given the various plans and strategies outlined by the delegation in their presentation and report, had the Government envisaged including temporary special measures in order to address on-going inequalities, for example in women’s underrepresentation in politics? She noted that at the last elections women continued to have very small representation.
That discrimination against women was an offence under the Penal Code was commendable, an Expert said. Nevertheless, she expressed concern about the breadth and depth of the definition of discrimination, given its emphasis on the public sphere and role in employment. Did the definition include discrimination against women in the private sphere, including in the home and between family members, which was also a human rights violation. Furthermore, the Committee had heard that violence against women in the home was handled by mediation – if that was true, it was unacceptable that such an extreme human rights violation as violence against women be dealt with by mediation. What was the legal distinction between ‘serious’ and ‘non-serious’ violence?
Stereotypes often lay behind the practice of impunity, and despite the considerable improvement in prosecutions, violence against women remained a burning issue in Cambodian society. What was being done to change stereotypical norms in the judiciary and law enforcement? Stereotypes were sometimes enshrined in formal and informal codes of conduct and could take a very long time to erase from cultural memory, but deliberate and effective action needed to be taken in that regard.
Concerning domestic violence, what response would a victim have in Cambodia? Could the delegation provide statistics on reported crimes? Were there any shelters, and services such as health, counselling and legal aid, for victims?
Prostitution was a serious problem, with official figures saying some 40,000 to 80,000 women worked as prostitutes. Poverty was the strongest reason that led women to selling their bodies. However, the Committee had received reports of women and girls being forced into prostitution, under traditional cultural norms. Did the Government provide any systematic assistance to victims of prostitution attempting to get out of sexual exploitation? How were local sex buyers and foreign sex tourists punished?
Trafficking in persons was criminalized in law, an Expert noted, and asked what mandate the National Mechanism, established under the Ministry of Interior in 2009 to eliminate trafficking, had.
Response by the Delegation
The Government had taken many temporary special measures, especially on women in decision-making, by installing a 20 to 50 per cent quota for women into the civil service. Guidelines to increase the number of women decision-makers in the Government had almost doubled the number of Women Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries of State. Those special measures had been effective, a delegate said, as they had changed the viewpoint of society to see that women were able to hold decision-making positions. Other initiatives, not necessarily temporary, included scholarships that had been established for women with disabilities and ‘invisible’ groups of women. Women heads of households and rural women received special care, such as free vocational training by the Ministry of Labour, and development of entrepreneurial skills. Access to credit for women had been eased, more money was now being lent to women than men.
Discrimination was criminalized, the head of delegation said, agreeing with the Committee that the definition was incomplete. Lawyers were considering the issue, and the Government was looking at how best to reform it.
Stereotypes and stigmatization existed in all countries, and of course in the private sphere. Girls in Cambodia were not born to be the head of a household, the breadwinner. Traditional views were that a woman was born to be a good spouse, a good mother and run the household. That tradition was still alive in Cambodia and especially in rural areas: changing that took time. The minds of older generations could not be changed in just 10 years to see that a woman could be more than just a wife and a mother. The Government worked to change the habits and mind-sets of people. For example, many women accepted that it was alright for their man to beat them when he was angry, as that was a man’s nature.
Regarding gender-based violence, a delegate said mediation existed for cases as an alternative option to the courts, because the courts were so overcrowded, and also expensive for poor people. Some criminal offences had to wait longer than one year to get to trial, so minor cases of domestic violence were often mediated by the police. For example, women report a crime to the police, who imprison the man, but women would go asking the police to release their husband a day later, as they needed him as the breadwinner. Therefore mediation was an efficient, cheaper way of solving the problem. It was not the best way, but for the time being it eased the burden on courts. Protection Orders were available to protect victims from perpetrators, and the rate of orders was increasing – the figures would be made available to the Committee.
Services for victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence included shelters across the country for victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence, and also one-stop-services that ran a network of relevant services such as health, legal, police and social. Regarding awareness-raising, a campaign, the ‘Good Man Campaign’ was launched five years ago at the community level to reduce gender-based violence, with the involvement of men, with great effect. A campaign on legal literacy, to ‘know the laws’, was also being disseminated.
Stereotypical views of course existed among some law enforcers, judges and prosecutors, particularly the older generations, a delegate said, but they were being trained on gender-based violence law and the Convention.
The Ministry of Interior was not the only mechanism working to prevent trafficking in persons; other ministries, together with civil society, as well as sub-national and provincial authorities also delivered the national action plan to prevent trafficking. Furthermore, the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons concentrated on prevention, law enforcement, protection measures and strategies, as well as the migration issue. The Government was now starting to analyse its policies and how effective they had been over the last five years. Cambodia had agreements with its neighbours Thailand, Malaysia and Viet Nam to prevent trafficking, and additionally in 2011 an agreement banning the sending of domestic workers to Malaysia was signed.
Concerning prostitution, a delegate said there was no explicit punishment for people buying sex, only under the Anti-Trafficking Law, which provided for a fine and up to six days imprisonment. The legislation – namely the Criminal Code – needed to be amended or harmonized to remedy the situation. The Government was working with UNICEF on an Explanatory Note to the Anti-Trafficking Law to make the rule of law more consistent.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert said Cambodia was unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals on women’s representation in politics and decision-making. The minimum quotas and figures listed in the presentation of the report were good, but why was the policy to have women Deputy Governors not on equal terms with men? What about the participation of women of ethnic minorities? An Expert raised the issue of nationality. She asked about access to birth certification, particularly for Vietnamese women, and about statelessness in general.
The Committee was concerned about the treatment of gender-based crimes under the Khmer Rouge regime; it noted that forced marriages were taken into account but was worried that rape was not being prosecuted. An Expert was concerned that rape was not included as a crime of law, and given that the Tribunal was due to close next year, that many women victims would not receive reparations. Many women had never spoken about their suffering, due to stigma. What was the Government doing to ensure that impunity for violations of women’s rights was not tolerated?
Response by the Delegation
A member of the delegation working on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal took the floor to speak about justice for crimes of gender-based violence during that period. The Tribunal did punish perpetrators, but for crimes of torture, rather than specific gender-based violence. Very heavy punishments had been given to perpetrators of torture, which included crimes of sexual violence. Compensation for victims was provided for by the Tribunal’s regulations.
Concerning nationality, children born to duel-national parents could choose which nationality they wanted. However, when it came to women of Vietnamese nationality the Government could not always intervene in conflictions with Vietnamese nationality law. Cambodia recently computerized birth registration, which would in the future mean databases were complete and everybody was registered.
Regarding women in politics, a delegate said for the last 10 years the Government had been increasing the number of women in the legislative by convincing the various political parties to add women to lists of candidates in elections and to put their names at the top of the list, within the first five candidates. Some parties resisted because they doubted women’s capacity to lead, so in answer the Government had provided leadership and management training and technical skill training in planning, accounting and more.
A critical mass of women was needed to really make a change to the amount of women holding high-level decision-making positions and to that end the Government strongly promoted young women in politics, which was very important given the young population of Cambodia. The policy of appointing women as Deputy Governors in all provinces was intended to prepare women to be Governors, and also to prepare and convince society – including men and women – to support women as decision-makers.
At the 2008 elections, 26 of 123 parliamentary seats were occupied by women, but in the 2013 elections 25 of 123 seats were held by women, so it was correct that Cambodia would not meet the Millennium Development Goal in that regard. At those elections 17 per cent of the candidates put forward by the ruling party were women, while women made up nine per cent of opposition candidates.
The number of women in the diplomatic corps had increased both in number and senior positions held; there were now five women Ambassadors and more women serving as diplomatic advisors. Women from ethnic minorities holding decision making roles included several Muslim women, two at under-Secretary of State level, while one woman from a Hill Tribe minority was a Governor in one of the Eastern provinces. The problem for women from ethnic minorities, especially the Hill Tribe, was the struggle to access education.
Questions from the Experts
On education, an Expert commended the State party for the improvements it had made in girls’ access to education. The gender gap in literacy remained high in the 25 to 40 years of age group but was much narrower in the 15 to 24 age group, which was indicative of the gains made in women’s education over the last 20 years. As commendable as those gains were, they masked several issues of concern, the Expert said, adding that access to education varied for girls in urban, rural and remote areas.
Women employed in the garment industry made up over 60 per cent of workers and were extremely vulnerable to abuse; there were reports of low wages, job insecurity, short-term contracts, sexual harassment and abuse. Those women contributed substantially to Cambodia’s economic growth, but remained largely unrepresented and unrecognized. How was the Government seeking to enhance their workplace rights and status? The Labour Code excluded a broad range of workers, including civil servants, the police and especially domestic and household workers. How were those workers in the informal economy protected from discrimination, exploitation and poor working conditions? How was the Government seeking to regulate the private sector?
The Committee commended the State party on health achievements such as the decrease in the maternal mortality rate, the increase in births attended by skilled birth attendants, and the increase in the distribution of modern contraceptive forms. However, there was still a huge gap between policies and the reality in women’s access to family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare. What efforts had been made to institutionalize sexual and reproductive healthcare, to raise awareness on sexual health, and to educate women as to the services they could access? How could a woman access free medical care? The abortion law passed in 1997 provided a liberal policy, an Expert said. How was the Government addressing the lack of access to safe abortions, particularly for rural women, the high cost of abortions, and the absence of data on abortion-related deaths, which were reported to be very high.
The State party was commended in its achievements in halting the spread of HIV AIDS, as well as combating discrimination against people living with HIV AIDS. However, women remained at greater risk of contracting HIV due to a lack of information about how it was contracted and spread, while pregnant women with HIV reportedly faced discrimination by healthcare staff, and were usually strongly advised to terminate their pregnancy.
Response from the Delegation
Answering the cluster of questions on education, a delegate reminded the Committee that Cambodia was a post-conflict country, emerging from the killing fields. Therefore illiteracy was still high for women, but the Government was working closely with development partners to remedy that. The delegate provided new data on education, including drop-out by girls, and on the transition from primary to secondary school by girls. To improve the quality of teachers the Government had increased the basic salary of teachers; for example the minimum basic salary for a primary teacher was raised to the equivalent of USD$80 from USD$30, and from 2014 would be raised again to USD$100 per month.
Pregnant women were hampered in accessing employment but refusing to employ a person because they were pregnant was illegal. Legal guidelines had been issued to recruitment agencies, especially those sending women abroad. Regarding women working in the garment industry, a delegate said they now received an increased minimum wage of USD$80, plus transportation, health coverage and other benefits for good attendance, which added up to between USD$100 and 150 per month, making the wages higher for garment factory workers than for civil servants, who earned just USD$80 per month without additional benefits. The Government and employers offered garment workers vocational training to upgrade their skills to become unit managers. The Ministry of Labour had a procedure to receive and resolve complaints by national and migrant workers.
The Government prioritized training women in entrepreneurial skills in order to help them start their own cottage industries, working out of their homes, and promoted micro, small and medium enterprises. The Women Entrepreneur Association was made up of more than 150 women entrepreneurs nationwide. The private sector was regulated by the Ministry of Labour with support from the International Labour Organization, which also provided technical support in labour inspections particularly to address the gender pay gap in the private sector.
The Government had held three consultancies on whether to sign the International Labour Organization Convention on domestic workers, a delegate confirmed. Cambodia had had a problem with its nationals working in a neighbouring country and therefore had stopped sending Cambodian domestic workers to work in that country, by a Government decree dated 23 September 2013. Labour attaches had been or would be established at the embassies in countries where Cambodian migrant workers travelled to provide support to them.
The maternal mortality rate had been greatly reduced, a delegate agreed, by several measures, mainly by investing more financial resources into healthcare and increasing health infrastructure to improve access, by building 1,400 health centres and 82 hospitals. Challenges remained in getting more skilled healthcare staff, such as midwives, to staff new units, especially in rural and remote areas. The delegate spoke about maternal waiting houses situated in remote areas, which were for pregnant women to stay in one week before they were due to give birth, and for one week after, in cases where their homes were too far from the health centre for easy travel.
Regarding access to healthcare for poor women, a delegate described an ‘ID Poor Card’ that was provided to impoverished families to enable them to access free health services, including maternity care.
The 1997 abortion law was amended in 2002 to provide for training on carrying out abortions, and today 78 regional hospitals, 275 health centres and seven non-governmental organization clinics could provide comprehensive abortion services and care according to the law. The area of sexual and reproductive healthcare, including policies on HIV AIDS, was a success story in Cambodia, a delegate said, adding that abortion was not a family planning method, so women who had an abortion received counselling, with the aim of helping them avoid having to have an abortion again in the future.
Questions by the Experts
The situation of rural women was raised by an Expert, who asked several questions about abuse and ignorance of their rights, and about large-scale land acquisition, the forced eviction from their land of rural women, and relocation. Cambodia remained one of the most densely mined areas in the world and had one of the highest proportions of women disabled by land mines: what was the Government doing to support them? Cambodia was also one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to hazards related to climate, including floods and droughts; women were the most vulnerable to those natural disasters; what was the State party doing about that?
Customary marriage, which was not recognized as a legal partnership, was widespread in Cambodia. What was being done to facilitate formal marriage to ensure the rights of all, including young girls? If a minor was to be married, was it correct that they needed a guardian to oversee the partnership? Reports indicated that the majority of women did not have equal rights upon divorce, because of a lack of money to pay the legal costs for a divorce settlement in court.
Response by the Delegation
To help rural women the Government was developing rural infrastructure, especially the river roads, to help women entrepreneurs’ access markets. An irrigation system had been developed to help women develop broad-based agricultural growth, so the economy did not rely just on the garment industry.
Regarding the forced eviction of rural women from their land, a delegate explained that many people migrated to urban centres in search of jobs, which led to a high rate of urbanization in Cambodia. The Government could not accept the terminology of ‘forced eviction’ which was only carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime, and not by this elected Government.
Land mine victims were integrated into the policies for persons with disabilities, and received the same rehabilitation, training and support, especially through the seven regional centres for persons with disabilities. There was a Government de-mining unit; most landmines were located in the north, near the border with Thailand, and as the land was de-mined it was given to people to develop. There was a strategic plan on gender and climate change being used by the Ministry for Environment and Agriculture.
Regarding marital law, a delegate said in cases of divorce, common property was divided 50/50. Assets a wife inherited from her parents remained hers after divorce. Customary marriages just had to be registered at the local authority, which was easy and inexpensive, but the problem was that many people did not do that, for whatever reason. People could marry at the age of 18. Minors could marry from 15 years with the permission of a parent or guardian, and the consent of the girl – it was not forced marriage.
ING KANTHA PHAVI, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, said Cambodia was committed to the implementation of the Convention and hoped that the Committee appreciated the progress it had made since its last report in 2006. The Government had taken into account the Committee’s last concluding remarks and addressed the challenges highlighted, and would again convey the recommendations to the highest levels.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the recommendations of the Committee for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.
The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=812&Lang=en on Monday 21 October.
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