BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA
The Royal Government of Cambodia will promote women in business sector in order that they can work to greater contributions to creation of jobs improving incomes, developing human resources, and contributing to economic growth overall and poverty reduction.
Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of the Women’s Affairs, said that the Royal Government has declared 2010 as the year of women economic empowerment. She added that the government made this decision because women play a very important role in Cambodia’s economy and greater success of women’s enterprises could have a far reaching impact.
“As the Ministry’s publication, A Fair Share for Women Shows, women are very important contributors to economic developments in Cambodia. Cambodian women have one of the highest labor forces participation rates in Asia,” she said during opening remarks delivered to the Seminar on Women in Business in Phnom Penh on March 31st.
More than 70 percent of Cambodian women, 15 years and older are in the workforce. The only Asian countries with higher participation rates of women are China with 76 percent of participation, and Vietnam with 78 percent, according to Kantha Phavi.
In declaring 2010 the year of women economic empowerment the Ministry of Women’s Affairs hopes to raise public awareness of the important role that women play in owning and operating businesses and to begin addressing the many challenges that keep women’s businesses small, she said.
Kantha Phavi said that although the women outnumber men in owning business, women’s enterprises are overwhelmingly small and informal. Women own only 1.7 percent of formal enterprises and this significantly regards the development of women’s businesses. Without formal registration of their businesses, women entrepreneurs cannot borrow the larger loans they need for expansions, they cannot insure their businesses, they cannot seek the government help in improving their businesses or resolving the business disputes. Nor can unregistered businesses export.
She added that women entrepreneurs are an enormous untapped resource for economic development. If women’s businesses were able to achieve their potential, they could make much greater contributions to jobs creation, improving incomes, developing human resources, paying taxes, and contributing to economic growth overall as well as poverty reduction.
“Women’s businesses owners could also make the important contributions to economic development in other ways,” she said. “We believe that when greater numbers of women participate in business associations so broadening its membership base, the private sector will be more successful in advocating business forums, accelerate its pace and create greater outcomes.”
She said that years of effort by the government, civil society and donor agencies have resulted in improvements to Cambodian women’s health, education, working condition, security and political participation.
“Although much remains to be done to improve the conditions and opportunities for women, we should now also consider how to support the development of women’s enterprises because this could have an impact far greater than on individual themselves,” she added.
Julia Brickell, Resident Representative of the International Corporation Cambodian (IFC), said that in Cambodia, as in emerging economies around the world, when they think of small farmers, small-scale manufacturers and small service business, they are always thinking of a woman.
She added that here in Cambodia, ICF’s research shows the same trend, but the percentage of women entrepreneurs is ever higher. In 2006, IFC’s study found that 55 percent of Cambodian business were owned by women, and in 2008, the percentage of women business owners increased to 62 percent.
“Since we instituted our gender program in 2004, ICF shown that investing in women entrepreneurs is good for business and good for economic and social development,” she said.
She continued to say that ICF is also helping women entrepreneurs around the world to play a great role in government-private sector dialogue. Here in Cambodia, ICF has been supporting the Government Private Sector Forum, a public private sector dialogue platform which enables the private sector to raise its concerns to the government.
Dr. Lili Sisombat, ICF Project Manager, Investment Climate Advisory Services in Mekong World Bank Group, said that less than 10 percent of participants are women while they make up 62 percent of businesses in Cambodia. She added that all co-chairs (government and private sector) are men. Studies found that women faced specific issues that they are not advocated for during discussions.
The Government-Private Sector Forum can be useful for women entrepreneurs to address issues they face in Cambodia, she said.
According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ statistic figure, 52 percent of Cambodia’s populations are women; 79 percent of women involved in self-employment. Less than 9 percent of Senior Managers and National Decision Makers are women, 66.8 percent in manufacturing and 74.5 percent in wholesale and retail trade in Cambodia. ////