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The Role of Youth in Shaping Cambodia’s Democracy

Written by: Han Noy, a 3rd year student majoring in International Relations at Panhasastra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia   (Photo was taken on Saturday, 17th October 2020 at KAS Cambodia office after Politikoffee Forum on the topic: Current Cambodian Political Situation: Readiness for the Coming Elections.)   In 1993, a general election was held in Cambodia, following decades of civil wars and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime. The election, sponsored by the United Nations, aimed to introduce democracy to Cambodia. After the seed of democracy has been planted, the development of democracy in this Southeast Asian country has not been smooth. A coup was staged in July 1997 by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to topple the FUNCINPEC forces. Following the coup, the CPP has become a dominant party controlling Cambodian politics since 1998. The CPP’s political dominance changed in 2013 when a newly formed opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, gained considerable support from the voters, winning 55 out of 123 seats. Following the election, the CNRP became a major threat to the CPP in subsequent elections. However, the CNRP was later accused of plotting to topple the government and was dissolved by the Cambodian Supreme Court in 2017. Its senior officials were banned from politics. As a result, the 2018 general election was held without the CNRP as a major opposition party, allowing the CPP to win all the 125 parliamentary seats.  From this brief account, we can see that democracy in Cambodia has been debilitated, making its future fragile and uncertain. This is not to mention the ongoing arrests and oppression on environmental activists, human rights defenders, and former CNRP activities. Democracy in Cambodia, therefore, faces great challenges, and according to some analysts, it seems to go backward instead of moving forward.  Cambodia’s Fragile Democracy  After the general election in 2018, Cambodia has been edging toward authoritarianism and dictatorship. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2020 Cambodia’s democracy was ranked 130 out of 167 countries in the world. Cambodia also gained just only 3.10 out of a full score of 10, placing it in the category of authoritarian regimes.  There are many factors that contribute to this ranking. We can look at the essential components of democracy such as human rights, media freedom, free and fair elections, rule of law, checks and balances, transparency, and accountability. These principles have, to some extent, been abused by the government. A series of laws such as union law, state of emergency law, public order law, and internet gateway law have been passed or proposed, potentially putting more restrictions on NGOs, citizens, and the media. This discourages people from getting involved in any political activities or movements to voice their concerns on issues that have not been sufficiently addressed by the government. Power conflict is another major constraint and threat for Cambodian democracy. The country’s democratic institutions have not been fabricated effectively even though Cambodia has adopted core democratic values. Power competition and deep political mistrust are pervasive among the ruling and the opposing political camps, making it virtually impossible for the country to move its democracy forward. In general, the Cambodian government has yet to fulfill its obligation as a democratic government. What happened in 2017 when there was a systematic crackdown on independent media and the political opposition speaks volumes about democratic development in Cambodia. It has been argued that a democratic government is “the government of people, by people and for people.” Thus, the government holds an obligation to serve the public interest, follow the will of the people, and prioritize the needs of the people when making any decisions. The Role of Citizens in a Democracy   In a democratic state, the government is not the only player responsible for keeping democracy on track. The citizen plays an extremely significant role, too. In this regard, civic engagement in politics is vital. People need to participate in politics and become politically literate. When the people understand what democracy is and take part in promoting the principles of democracy, it is likely that they will get the kind of democracy they desire.   Moreover, when people long for democracy but do not understand the normative minimum requirements of democracy, problems will automatically arise. For example, people mostly enjoy the idea of democracy. However, they sometimes do things which are against the democratic principles. They are afraid of giving an interview or report to journalists regarding political and social issues because of fear of insecurity. They commit corruption by bribing officials, thinking that it is not corruption. They ignore political and social affairs and let one person or a group to decide everything for them and their country. They simply do not care about what their government is doing and which direction their country is heading. These behaviors need to change and all citizens need to increase their civic engagement and actively participate in holding the government accountable of their actions.  Cambodian Youth Are the Future  In order to move democracy forward, Cambodian youth who are the future of Cambodia have a pivotal role to play. As estimated by the United Nations, over two-third of Cambodia's population are youth who do not go through the horror of the Khmer Rouge. They are less likely to be influenced by the ruling party’s recurring rhetoric of war and peace, especially in the lead up to general elections. Therefore, more opportunities for youth to strengthen their capabilities should be created. Donors and the international community should increase their support for local NGOs that have youth-focused programs to promote youth education and empowerment so that they can become change agents who can positively contribute to civic, political, social and human rights. When youth are educated and empowered, they will find the way to demand their rights and hold the government more accountable and transparent. Thus, it is vital to support youth who are Cambodia’s future political and civic leaders. Cambodian politics has been navigated by older generations and elites for a long time, and the older generations will have to give up their positions to young generations someday. As such, whether the older generation want to or not, they need to support youth and prepare them to be the future leaders of Cambodia.  Moreover, as Cambodian youth, we need to have conscientiousness and understand that we are the backbone of the nation. We cannot just wait for others to push or help us, but we need to have a sense of responsibility and growth. We must strengthen our capacity and constantly push ourselves to contribute to making positive changes in our society. We cannot make changes unless we are knowledgeable, capable, forward looking, and hardworking.  The Need to Reinvent a New Political Culture  No doubt, there is a need to reinvent a new political culture in Cambodia. Cambodian politics has long been driven by power conflict and zero-sum game competition among the politicians, causing prolonged civil wars, instability, turmoil, and chaos. This political culture must end. Politicians need to prioritize national interests, not self-interests. The current political culture has not been beneficial; it makes the nation divided, creating uncertainty to the current state of peace and development. Thus, it is crucial that politicians give up this political culture and embark on building social cohesion and unity. This is the prerequisite for this nation to rise up again.  Conclusion In sum, Cambodian people, especially youth and politicians, need to know that politics is not a job or game that we all come to play just for fun or self-interest. Politics is a place where we engage to serve the public interest, the people, and the country. We must stop thinking that politics is the rice cooker for us to earn our own interests. Therefore, in a political game, if we do not have the real will to play to serve the nation, it is better not to play because the whole nation’s destiny relies on our decisions as politicians. If we are determined to play this political game in a democratic society, we must abide by the rules and principles of democracy to avoid leaving a bad reputation for the future generation to despise.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Knowing Your Role in Combating Fake News on Social Media

Written by: Phit Phariya, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Misinformation" by 3dpete is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)   Social media is an inevitable part of every society in this digital age. Many things you read online, especially in your social media news feed may appear to be factual but often are not. Due to its rapid speed, false information has been around for years and can be up to six times quicker than a piece of general news. With the illusionary adverse effect, when you hear a lie many times, you tend to believe it is true. In the era of the internet, concern about the issue is intense. You may have to take a moment to think before sharing what you see because fake news is more intimate! Importance of news for daily life   News is vital for a variety of reasons in our daily life. The primary goal of it is to keep the public informed of activities that happen and affect us. We cannot imagine our life without news. News provides us with knowledge, which is crucial for social changes. It is vital to keep track of what is going on in our society with this unpredictable dynamic era, where your views are constantly questioned. Therefore, you need to keep reading the news no matter how old you are and be aware of what is going on in your area. With that, you can assist those who do not know where to start to deal with it and miss out on it. By checking through your social media account, you can find that there is news content in your newsfeed, and it can keep you up to date with what is going on in your local surroundings and the rest of the world. More and more people now engage with social media due to the rising popularity of a wide range of internet-enabled devices and advanced mobile internet speeds. And most of us also get our news from social media sites. Unfortunately, social media has its negative side, in which fake news is widespread. Some specific groups use misinformation to influence and manipulate users for political or economic gain.  Fake news and why people fall for it  False information is not new. It has been a concern of almost every one of us as citizens who obtain information from social media. Fake news is known as false stories fabricated and circulated to deceive those who read it. Such content can damage public debate by manipulating people to make unwise decisions on all aspects of life. False information can fool people by imitating trustworthy websites or using names and web addresses similar to that of credible news organizations. This harm can be the distinguishing factor of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, clickbait, and hoax. Disinformation refers to the deliberate dissemination of false information with the intent to deceive. Misinformation is inaccurate reporting resulting from misleading an error, an honest mistake, or using incomplete data. There is no intention in deceiving, but it is misleading. And propaganda is the spread of information or ideas, arguments, rumors, half-truths, or lies in a rumor to influence public opinion. Clickbait refers to the exaggerated content or headlines created to provoke readers by appealing to their emotions, generally anger or curiosity. It is to entice readers to connect with content to produce ad revenue. When you click on a link, the website that hosts it receives money from advertisers, but the content itself has a problem with quality and accuracy. The issue is that when a website uses clickbait, it usually prioritizes getting clicks over providing high-quality content. It implies that they do not mind wasting our time with overrated content. And hoax refers to deception, either amusing or malicious, used to manipulate or mislead others. It typically takes the form of fabrication of falsified or incorrect information.  Impacts of fake news Due to the long existence of Fake news, yet with the rise of the ease of the internet and social media, it has become more complicated to determine what can and cannot be trusted. Users are probably aware that fake news and other forms of misleading information can take several structures that may also have significant consequences. It is because knowledge shapes our views, and we place our critical decisions on that. We gather information to manifest opinions about individuals or situations. We will not be able to make good decisions if the information we receive is fabricated, misleading, exaggerated or distorted. That somehow can make us believe and support untruthful misinformation. It can manipulate our thoughts, our perspective, and view toward certain things, leading us to make irrational decisions. Fake News has an immense impact on us as social media users. The senior people who lack technological knowledge can easily fall victim or be vulnerable to it. According to a study published in the journal Science, older people are nearly four times more likely than adolescents to have shared fake news via social media. That includes the information related to the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of infected people has been deployed to manipulate individual points of view. It somehow could impact their psychology and caused the situation to be chaotic. Another case, the spread of untruthful information about the dead people caused by covid-19 which they die due to their health and sickness that completely contradicts the news. Also, there is propaganda circulating vaccine misinformation on safety and effectiveness to generate vaccine hesitancy among people. Moreover, we had seen misinformation spread, which claimed that it was possible to get rid of the virus by consuming garlic or drinking bleach. However, no scientific evidence could prove that eating garlic protects people from the virus. This false information can quickly spread from one to another, much like a virus. But generally, medical misinformation has always been fueled by ideologues who suspect science and proven measures like the case of vaccines.  How to tackle fake news On social media, fake news may be inevitable. However, improving critical thinking will aid in the prevention of the spread. To tackle fake news, people can maintain a healthy level of interest in what they see on their social media. Firstly, they should comprehend how social media sites curate what they spot and learn to take investigative activities to examine whether any information circulated on social media is trustworthy with reliable sources. It is also vital to discover whether a social media account spreading that information has any professional or sentimental connection with the claims. Thus, when consuming "news," you need to look at the source and see if the information is true and accurate. You can also ask yourself some other questions: Is it hosted on a satirical news website? On social media platforms or just personal blogs? Just keep being skeptical of information unless it comes from a reputable news outlet. Do your homework. You need to rigorously check it even though it involves the use of statistics. The point is that statistics are a common way to entice customers and offer the appearance of fact. You cannot take their claims at face value. Review the research's citations and dates, ensuring that they are reliable and not outdated. Secondly, people need to have a sufficient understanding of the aims of their fellow posters who regularly publish information and disseminate news contents. It is the key to countering false or misleading information on social media. In our country, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself urged people, especially media personalities, to join hands and spread more truthful information so it will contribute to eradicating fake news. Not only journalists who have a role, but every individual social media user can play a role in distributing accurate information and also in raising awareness on fake news among their peers. By doing that, more people will care and take action to join the fights against this infodemic. As responsible social media users, people should strictly adhere to their duties with integrity, actively report or pass around only the facts with reliable references, not exaggeration or misrepresentation. All users must spread accurate, evidence-based information. Speaking from my own experience, when people share or forward information to me on social media, I always ask them to check and verify it on official news sites before believing and sharing. If we can follow these, at least we can reduce the frequent spread of false or misleading information on social media. When executed with good purpose and consideration, social media can be a powerful tool for every individual to gather much-needed information. Thirdly, everyone can contribute to preventing fake news from being wider spread by boosting their media literacy. When almost everyone can create content related to various issues, they need to acquire sufficient knowledge on how to deal with fake news and how to use their social media more responsibly. By saying this, they have duties to read and research to comprehend the causes and effects of false information and take part in reporting such information when coming across it through social media platforms. The general public can effectively scrutinize and take further action to tackle fake news when there are more awareness-raising programs, such as seminars, training, public discussions and educational activities. All people should understand that posting false information on social media without accountability is equivalent to spreading fake news and contributing to the degeneration of their society. Everyone can become a fake news distributor, even without having an intention or understanding it, if they do not have basic knowledge of the detrimental consequences of fake news. We can never stop fake news from being circulated, but we can do our part to prevent it from being replicated! *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors

COVID-19 Pandemic: The Same Storm But Different Boats 

Written by: Chhuon Vanndasambath, a 4th year student majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Paragon International University Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo credit: "mgo-00683 World Bank" by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar” - Damian Barr Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has faced the tragedy of a global health crisis, economic destruction, and social distress. Amid the pandemic, the phrase ‘we are all in the same boat’ has been repeated and has become a cliché everywhere, both online and offline.  But are we really in the same boat, same pace, and same condition in response to this pandemic? Or are we in the same storm but completely different boats?  COVID-19 has been regarded as the most devastating crisis in the world in the 21st century. According to the World Health Organization, over 100 million cases have been confirmed, with more than 2.5 million deaths globally. Regarding its economic impact, the International Monetary Fund has estimated a 5.4 percent decline in the global economy in 2021. It is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. COVID-19 is a disease that knows no border or race; anyone can be infected if they are careless about protective measures. COVID-19 can be considered as a storm that affects different states and people which are considered as boats. The presence of COVID-19 has brought significant negative impact on the world and human beings. However, everyone is not in the same boat as some people would think because each of us does have different techniques and quality of control and treatment in response to COVID-19. We are clearly in different boats amid the same storm because some countries and people are in a large boat, a ship or a superyacht that can provide them with safety and protection from the storm for a long time, while others are in small fragile boats that can be destroyed by the same storm quickly.  No doubt, people around the world are facing the same storm, the same global economic crisis, and the same global health crisis, yet not everyone is in the same boat or in the same situation under the same COVID-19 storm. Although the storm may have brought the same issues to all people, the level of difficulties everyone is facing may not be the same. Some people are still in a better condition than their peers. For instance, people in rich countries or rich people in developing countries are more likely to have enough resources and capacity to effectively sail through the COVID-19 storm. In contrast, poor people in developing countries, especially those who are living just above or under the poverty line are struggling with many issues, including hunger, food insecurity, and hardship resulting from the economic recession. As Darmian Barr puts it,  [...] For some, quarantine is optimal: a moment of reflection, of reconnection. For others, this is a desperate crisis. For others, it is facing loneliness. For some, peace, rest time, vacation. Yet for others, Torture: How am I going to pay my bills? Some were concerned about a brand of chocolate for Easter. Others were concerned about the bread for the weekend, or if the noodles would last for a few more days. - Damian Barr Since we are in the same storm of COVID-19, what we can do is to help each other. It does not mean that we are in a different boat and we would have different responsibilities. We should bear in mind that although people are in different boats, they have the same purpose: to survive. The COVID-19 pandemic is like a storm that affects everyone, that is, anyone can be infected by the virus. As the virus can spread across borders, the safety of one state cannot be secure when COVID-19 is still rampant in other states. Thus, a collective approach during this time is much more important than individual approaches. We need to come together in the spirit of empathy, responsibility, and cooperation at both bilateral and multilateral levels to combat this global issue. COVID-19 is a serious problem that we are unable to resolve on our own. Yet through cooperation and unity among states and individuals, we are more likely in a position to solve this vicious pandemic. Our joint efforts should be the viable way forward for us to combat the pandemic, allowing the world and humanity to be free of this virus. It is a moment where the powerful and wealthy must assist the frail and vulnerable. Let’s help each other overcome the COVID-19 storm.  It starts from each of us who plays a vital role in saving our community, country and the world.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Cambodia Needs to Strengthen Its Precautionary and Quarantine Measures to Avoid Future COVID-19 Crisis

Written By: Samoeurth Seavmeng, 3rd Generation Leader of Politikoffee Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: Mr. Po Sakun, Thmey Thmey)   Many people probably did not expect the third community outbreak of COVID-19, known as the 20 February event, in Cambodia, which has so far caused more than 16 thousand infections and more than one hundred deaths. I once thought that the fight against the pandemic was over and that Cambodia having secured vaccines for its people would be able to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country entirely. However, despite the presence of the vaccines and the success Cambodia had over the past year, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the country. The health system has been overwhelmed by the increasing number of new infections and deaths, prompting the government to use wedding reception centers like Koh Pich Convention & Exhibition Center and The Premier Center Sen Sok as quarantine centers. Phnom Penh and neighboring Ta Khmao town have been placed in lockdown since April 15. The lockdown is expected to end on May 5, instead of April 28 as previously planned. The situation seems to get worse as several hundred new infections have been reported daily.  As a Cambodian citizen, I have witnessed the great work of tireless doctors and nurses, volunteers, authorities, ministries and relevant stakeholders in the fight against COVID-19. Most Cambodian people have also practiced precautionary measures and followed health recommendations from the authorities. However, the current COVID-19 situation happened because a small group of people who are responsible for implementing and enforcing the anti-COVID-19 measures were corrupted and overlooked strict quarantine policies for travelers coming to Cambodia. Some local people were also complacent and did not comply with the precautionary measures recommended by the health authority. Lack of strict quarantine policy In the first place, if the government had strictly implemented and tightened the quarantine policy for incoming international travelers, the current situation of COVID-19 would not have become so severe like this. All the COVID-19 outbreaks have been triggered by imported cases. Evidently, the first community outbreak, known as “the November 28 incident” was brought in by the wife of Cambodia’s prisons chief, who had traveled abroad. This incident caused more than 300 infections but no death. The second community outbreak was linked to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, who didn’t quarantine himself before meeting with Cambodia high ranking officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen. Lastly and unfortunately, the infection began to spread when four Chinese nationals who escaped their two-week quarantine from a five-star hotel in Phnom Penh went clubbing. The club became a hotspot where the virus was reported to start spreading to the community. The current COVID-19 nightmare would not have happened if the two-week quarantine policy had been strictly applied to everyone without any exception. Moreover, the quarantine centers should have been fully restricted and carefully monitored by relevant authorities to prevent people from escaping their quarantine before they met the 14-day quarantine requirement. Thus, if the authorities had paid more attention, those international travelers could not have left the quarantine hotel and then spread COVID-19 to other people. We were lucky that the previous two incidents did not cause too many infections to the Cambodian people, yet the 20 February event has ended this luck. Lack of precautionary methods and plans Similar to the imported cases, the government probably did not foresee possible scenarios of COVID-19 spread in the country. Obviously, COVID-19 infections could explode in garment factories which are potential hotspots. If this even-worse scenario happens, there would be greater damage to the country. During the outbreaks, the factory workers were still working normally, although new cases were reported daily. Factory workers are people who earn the minimum wage; they live and work in small and crowded places. Their working space, dining place, traveling and accommodation are vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. This is not to mention that most of them are close to one another when they work, sleep, eat and travel. If one of them got infected, the spread would definitely mushroom and the infection would be unmanageable. Unwantedly, this worse scenario eventually occurred when 788 workers from more than 36 factories got infected on April 17, 2021. This was the result of the lack of precautionary measures for these hotspots, causing infection rates to rise quickly, making the health system almost unable to cope. We have seen the consequences of the lack of adherence to the precautionary measures in other countries such as Thailand and India. For example, Thailand allowed their citizens to enjoy freedom at nightclubs, pubs and parties as though the virus was gone. As a result, on April 29, 2021 alone, the country recorded 10 deaths and 1871 infections. The case of India is worse. The Indian government allowed Indian people to celebrate weddings and religious festivals, causing infections to soar at a rate of 300,000 to 400,000 new cases per day. So far, India has recorded more than 200,000 deaths and nearly 20 million infections. Cambodia needs to learn from these lessons to avoid becoming another victim of the COVID-19 tragedy.     Conclusion and recommendations Even though the Cambodian government has tried its best to contain the spread of COVID-19, the community transmission eventually occurred, causing nearly 100 deaths so far. However, the February 20 event will end ultimately; therefore, we need to prepare for the future in case there are new variants of COVID-19 or another community transmission. We need to ensure that Cambodia is ready to curb rather than dealing with the disease desperately and exhaustively. Below are a few recommendations. First, Cambodia should learn the lesson from what happened in India and other countries which allowed mass gatherings while COVID-19 is still around. As Cambodia will hold commune elections in 2022 and the national election in 2023, election campaigns need to be limited unless the pandemic is under complete control. Large gatherings of people and campaigns as well as the celebration of other important national festivals must be postponed or cancelled. We need to sacrifice some freedom to save the country from COVID-19. The government needs to reinforce precautionary measures until the complete absence of COVID-19 infections is confirmed. Second, Cambodia needs to tighten quarantine policies for both foreigners and Cambodian people. Strict quarantine policies must be enhanced to ensure that no loopholes or any incidents can occur like the 20 February event again. Any potential hotspots such as garment factories and wet markets need to be under special precautionary measures and control. Lastly, the Cambodian government should have post-pandemic national plans and policies to help and assist Cambodian people who have been severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The existing COVID-19 relief program should continue to ensure that the most affected Cambodian families can survive and build back better post-pandemic.

Free COVID-19 Treatment: A Path Toward Universal Health Coverage​ in Cambodia 

Written by: Ly Houv, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Better physical accessibility and greater awareness of disability by hospital staff have improved the inclusion of people with impairments. CAMBODIA" by Community Eye Health is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)   For the majority of Cambodians, it is common sense that the healthcare service is costly and inefficient. If they can afford high-cost health services provided by private hospitals or clinics in the country, they might be lucky. They might be even more fortunate if they can afford to receive health treatment abroad. Unfortunately, most Cambodians cannot afford such services when they are sick or get into accidents. Even though the Cambodian government has been trying hard to push forward and follow the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) based on the World Health Organization (WHO) program, there are numerous challenges to achieve it. Universal Health Coverage is an important mechanism introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the inequality and the healthcare problem and promote better health and well-being of people. UHC, by definition, refers to a situation in which all people can obtain the healthcare they need without facing financial hardship. Furthermore, the WHO also claims that UHC in Cambodia is “a success in the making and the unfinished agenda”. In 2016, the Cambodian government issued the Health Insurance Scheme under the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which covers health care for workers. When they are sick, under the NSSF contracts, they do not need to pay for health treatment at public or private hospitals. Moreover, as a part of social protection policy, the government also unveiled the Identification of Poor Households (ID-Poor) program known as a poverty card to support deprived families. Those who are holding ID-Poor cards can access free treatment at public hospitals. When it comes to the ID-Poor program, there are problems and challenges such as poor quality and inefficient services provided by healthcare workers. There are also irregularities and nepotism reported in the process of issuing the cards. This malpractice has led to a condition in which truly needy households do not receive assistance. As a result, they have no choice but to force themselves to spend money on healthcare services. According to the Cambodia National Health Accounts (2012-2016), the government expenditure on health was only 22.3%, while the out-of-pocket spending of Cambodians accounted for 60.4%. It indicates that the health financing allowed by the government was minimal, not enough to support the entire basic healthcare system. The Ministry of Health (MOH)'s Annual Health Financing Report 2015 showed that more than 10,000 people in Cambodia struggled to pay the high medical bills and even fell into debt. Dr. Monoe Takeuchi, WHO in Cambodia's Acting Health systems Team Leader, said: “The risk of being pushed into poverty by health care expenditure is not low in Cambodia". The report added that most of them were vulnerable populations such as the poor, migrants, the elderly, disabled people, ethnic minorities, rural residents, mothers, and children. Therefore, people are afraid of being sick because what worries them the most is the skyrocketing healthcare cost. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has set a new challenge for the healthcare capability and responsibility of Cambodia. Since the first COVID-19 case was identified in January 2020, we could see that the government has been trying to contain community transmission by setting rules and regulations for the incoming travelers while providing all Cambodians free-of-charge testing service and treatment. By mentioning this, the responsibility and accountability of the government somehow make people feel confident and safe. They generally can be less concerned about bearing hefty medical bills if they get infected. Either wealthy or poor patients receive the same healthcare, for example, staying at the same medical centers and taking the same medication. Most importantly, on the third community transmission known as the February 20 community event, the new wave of infections has enormously challenged the country's public health system. As hospitals have been overwhelmed with skyrocketing new cases, many sites are turned into quarantine centers and treatment centers. The treatment, of course, is still free of charge, but the government also decided to greenlight private hospitals to treat COVID patients as they need to bear treatment costs. Taking this into account, this is a positive sign that Cambodians can receive the first-ever free and fair healthcare services, although it is only specifically for the COVID-19 case. What does this mean for the future of Cambodia's commitment to achieving UHC? It is difficult to predict what the future may hold since the pandemic is far from over, and whether the government will continue to cover the costs remains unclear. However, the COVID-19 policy designed by the government has satisfied the people, and the public trust in health care services administered by the government appears to be growing. The Cambodian government has been trying hard and working closely with the WHO to achieve this universal healthcare. As seen, the National Social Protection Policy Framework 2016-2025 has been endorsed by the government. It provides a vision for future development and governance of the country’s social protection system, such as the UHC’s roadmap. The roadmap consists of a social health insurance scheme for formal private employees and public employees run by NSSF, the Health Equity Fund (HEF) coverage for poor and other vulnerable groups with the ID-Poor program, and health insurance for informal sector employees.  Yet, there are many obstacles for the country to achieve this ambitious goal. Firstly, given that the general quality of public health services has increased over the past years, there remain many issues, including the in-patient treatment services, which are generally lower than patients' expectations. There have still been insufficient health facilities and advanced medical equipment. Also, the delivery of healthcare services is ineffective and inadequate as a small number of medical workers do not put enough effort into their duties. That also includes an impolite or disrespectful manner to the patients who use the insurance program or the ID-Poor card. Thus, there necessitate further improvements in the public health system in which regulatory mechanisms need strengthening. Meanwhile, more capacity building for medical staff with an expansion of healthcare facilities is also necessary. Secondly, another most challenging issue facing Cambodia is its limited financial capability. In 2018, the health expenditure per capita, PPP (in USD) was only $261, which means that each Cambodian spent $261 on healthcare on average. Meanwhile, in Thailand and Vietnam, the healthcare expenses per person in 2018 were $722 and $440, respectively. It’s double and triple the amount of money spent by a Cambodian. More than this, the out-of-pocket spending in 2018 on healthcare accounted for 57%, whereas that of Thailand and Vietnam was 11% and 44%. In Cambodia, there are commonly three health financing sources. These include the government budget, development assistance provided by donors as well as out-of-pocket payments. So far, the public funding allocated to the healthcare sector has only shared around 18.5% of the total expenditure. So, it can indicate that achieving the UHC in Cambodia is pretty challenging with the limited resources. Consequently, the government should mull on injecting more investment into the health sector. It means the government needs to generate more revenues, and there are available options such as hiking tobacco and alcohol taxes. Thirdly, the operating system also plays a vital role in encouraging further reform of the healthcare system in Cambodia. For instance, there should be more transparency in the tax revenue collection, revenues generated through the NSSF and the expenditure. These types of information should be publicly available for everyone. The claiming procedure of NSSF, ID-Poor program and health insurance should be more effective and less complicated as the current system requires manual processing with several steps in claiming the insurance benefits. Notably, up to 50,000 individual claims per month create more burden for insurance staff, and it does not benefit the patients either. Generally, a free or at least affordable healthcare service can still be established in a time of public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic as long as there is trust and the support of the people. Through its current efforts, the MOH has built a good reputation and integrity, and it may add up the courage to do more in improving its works and push for a realization of the UHC. A good public healthcare system is always an essential contribution to the sustainable development of Cambodia as a developing country. It is undeniable that when good healthcare services are delivered, the labor force and human resources, who are the backbone of growth, can also become healthier. All in all, I believe that instead of considering the COVID-19 pandemic as a public health curse, we should regard it as a time for a reflection on our existing healthcare policy and make changes for good. That means we can transform it into a blessing and work together to put a better emphasis on the advancement of our health sector. Once our public health system is progressed, becoming more efficient and responsive with everyone able to access it equally and affordably, we can build a more inclusive and sustainable future for all.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

The Need to Promote Cambodian Women’s Participation in Political Decision Making 

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Panhasastra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo was taken after Politikoffee Forum on Saturday, May 1, 2019 on the topic: "Germany's Artificial Intelligence (AI) Policy and Strategy". The speaker was H.E Ronja Kemmer, a Member of German Parliament.")   After the fall of the Angkor Civilization in the 15th century, Cambodia suffered prolonged civil wars and encroachments from its neighbors until it became a protectorate of France in the 19th century. It was under French colonization for 90 years until its independence in 1953. After a brief period of nation building and development, Cambodia fell into the darkness of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. The country was virtually destroyed under the genocidal regime and had to start from scratch after 7 January 1979 when the Khmer Rouge collapsed. With support from the United Nations, it held its post-war national elections in 1993 and adopted a multi-party democratic system.  Over the past few decades, Cambodia has achieved remarkable progress in a number of areas, including socio-economic development and political stability; however, many challenges remain. One of the challenges is the limited participation of Cambodian women in senior leadership positions in the government system, which limits their participation in political decision making.  Women make up 51 percent of Cambodia’s 16 million population. However, there are only 20 percent of women in the national assembly, 15 percent in the senate, and around 18 percent in commune councils. Out of Cambodia’s 25 cities and provinces, there are only two women who are provincial governors. One is a governor of Pailin province; the other is Koh Kong province governor.   There are many barriers that prevent Cambodian women from engaging in political decision making and holding high-level government positions. This article discusses three reasons, namely family factors, religious beliefs, and gender inequality, which constrain Cambodian women from raising their voices and representing other women in the state system.  Women behind the shadow of family  A report by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Cambodia showed that there were more women working in the informal sector, such as housework and childcare than men. Women were also found to be at greater risk of losing their rights to freely choose their work than men. Moreover, the report noted that women seemed to take on work that was close to the home due to their additional responsibilities for childcare and domestic work. It is a common belief that “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for her family.” As Cambodian society is still conservative, many people, especially the older generation, still think that knowledge of housework is the crucial knowledge that women should inherit and keep practicing. They tend to believe that a proper woman should possess the knowledge of managing domestic affairs such as cooking, looking after children, and doing housework. As Chin (2020) noted, “Men also hold the view that they are not allowed to do the laundry and cooking because it violates men’s rights based on Khmer culture.”  Women in the eyes of religious beliefs  Buddhism is Cambodia’s official religion, and approximately 97 percent of Cambodians are Buddhist. Buddhism has a strong influence on all parts of people's daily lives. It is a religious belief that it is a sin to be born as a woman, and to be born as a man in a next life, women need to cultivate more merits in the present life.  In Buddhism, monks play as important a role as teachers, but only men were allowed to study at pagodas and women remained at home to manage housework, childcare, and unpaid tasks. According to Chin (2020), “nuns are always busy with matters related to chores while the monks spend most of the day learning”. Looking at the leadership role at the monastery community, only men are seen at the leadership and decision-making levels, while women are playing as donors to pagodas and preparing food for monks.  Thus, to end this gender inequality, the interpretation of gender through Buddhism should be refined by Buddhist council or Buddhist experts, and the gender awareness of women should be promoted by preaching monks through radio or television broadcast and other channels such as Facebook and YouTube. As Chin (2020) suggested, “in contemporary Cambodia of Buddhism, it should be redefined to avoid the negative emphasis and wrong interpretation of Buddhism on gender issues”. Women and the constraints of traditions  According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Cambodia was ranked 96th out of 148 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. Even though Cambodia has improved the status of gender equality from 108th in 2014 to 89th in 2019, the trend of increasing women to be involved in politics remains limited.  A limited understanding of gender relations and gender equality is still prevalent, and the cultural norms that value men more than women have sustained the practice of male predominance in Cambodian society. Moreover, the gender stereotypes based on Chbap Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women, remain an obstacle to gender equity that women deserve. Because of the gender gap between policy and practice, there is an inequality between men and women when it comes to holding senior positions. As Trudy Jaccobsen (2008) stated, “while the female voice is for the most part absent in accepted versions of Cambodian history, this is not necessarily a reflection of the importance or passivity of women”. Chbab Srey seems to remain the most powerful weapon to control women's desire and role in Cambodian society. As Elizabeth Chey wrote, “Khmer traditionalists compare a Cambodian girl to white cotton wool. A boy is compared to a gem. And it is said that when white is muddied, it never is washed to the purity and cleanness it once had. Gem, on the other hand, can be cleaned to shine brighter”.   This quote shows that the inequality between men and women is still prevalent in Cambodian society even though Chbab Srey has been removed from school curricula since 2007.  Thus, men continue to be regarded as “gold” while women are seen as “white cotton wool” even though women have tried so hard to fight for their freedom and raise their voices. If this trend continues, the burden on women will not end, and the gender equality exists on only on paper. Men will continue to enjoy the traditional ideas of masculinity and male privileges. It is therefore important to create training programs to educate men to understand their role and gender equality to prevent discrimination against women. It is also vital if men try to be open minded and think that housework is not only a responsibility for women to do, but for both sexes. However, it might take a long time to address this issue of gender norms to promote gender equality. As Catherine and Nhek (2019) suggested, “we need to teach boys from a young age about their role in sexual reproductive health and rights and gender equality will ensure men of the future will have greater desire to share the responsibility of contraception.” The need to promote Cambodian women’s participation in political decision making  Political participation is a vital and benevolent component of democracy, and the nature and number of citizens involved in politics can significantly shape the direction of politics in a country. Thus, it is important to promote women’s participation in politics and senior positions in the government. Society may not develop quickly if women who are key actors are not given the opportunity to participate in political decision making.  Article 35 of the Cambodian constitution states that Khmer citizens of both sexes have the right to participate, actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation. Likewise, according to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” Thus, it is against the principles of human rights and against the Cambodian constitution if women continue to be marginalized and not given an equal status in society.  I believe that when the number of Cambodian women in senior positions in the government increases, there will be an improvement in gender equality, economic growth, quality of education, social justice, and healthy democracy. Conclusion  In conclusion, Cambodian women’s participation in decision making in the government system is limited. Family factors, religious beliefs and traditions continue to limit women’s role in political decision making. To ensure prosperity and wellbeing of the country, it is vital to end the gender gap and social stereotypes that marginalize women. I strongly believe that one nation could not move fast when women are not given the opportunity to make decisions. In fact, men and women should receive equal treatment and recognition. Women should be empowered to engage and raise their voices as well as to participate in high-level political decision making in the government system. We also must stop popularizing the phrase “Women can’t turn around the kitchen.” Moreover, as half of the Cambodian population is women, women’s participation in society and politics needs to be promoted. No doubt, women’s social and political participation is essential because it not only reflects the maturity of a country's politics, but it also represents a significant element of the national democratization process.  *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.

Toward Gender Equality: What You Need to Understand

Written by: Tea Sovanmony, a 3rd year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Equality" by @bastique is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)   “Feminism is not about making women strong. Women are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength,” said G.D. Anderson, an Australian feminist writer and founder of an Australian charity called the Cova project. Although men and women have been labor-power sellers in the economy, women mostly have faced underrepresentation and unequal treatment. Within this fact also, the origin of inequality has been derived from the historical evidence and social norms that still exist today. Therefore, in achieving an equitable society, men should also participate in bringing forward women's empowerment.   According to Women and Household Labour in Marxism Feminism society, people labelled women as a working-class driven by capitalism theory. As producers in a capitalist society, women have been judged based on their production outcome, which is lesser than men. The works carried out by women have been inadequately represented, unequally paid, and generally exploited.  Domestic labor such as housework is unpaid, and it has unfairly indicated a pure use-value because of the working scale within the family, not within the market. It is also uneven that men do not take women's endless tiredness, tears, sweat, and pressure from the housework into account. Noticeably, a home will not be clean or under orderly management without a wife. Thus, a better home environment for men who return from work will also not happen without women.  Considering the social norms that have prevented ladies from flourishing for many generations, the natural classification between gender does not indicate that men are a strong character who is indispensable to head the family, having more authority and domination over women. Beyond that, the idea of feminism and gender equality can be a platform that embodies respect for men and women in performing their roles equally within the family. Moreover, it is critical to help women improve literacy, give them more space in society, and eliminate gender discrimination. In the meantime, women should receive more opportunities to express themselves and make decisions at both the private and state levels more confidently. It is also crucial that men can have a proper understanding of the gender equality concept, which does not refer to women who are as strong as men and can take over men's positions in the workplace or require men to do the house chores. Soon after the preponderance of gentlemen understands and gets involved in tackling the gender issue, there will be a more conducive condition for women to develop their capabilities and unlock their potentials, which have long been curbed by out-dated cultural norms. An equal society will bring about gender equality in which men and women play roles as human capitals to buttress social, political, and economic development. The world will be more equitable in terms of wages and participation in decision-making for an equitably effective outcome.  Being daughters in Cambodian society, we are now exhausted and believe that there should be a change to the gender inequality issue. I think men should advocate and contribute to this change by participating in interpreting the concept of gender equality in a more equitable manner. Meanwhile, they also have to work on eliminating the tension between men and women. Trying to end any forms of oppression against women is also what men can do. Once gender equality is better, a daughter can live in a world that she has envisioned. A world where women and men can have a sexual relation, supporting one another performing family tasks, cordial family relations, and psychological support such as inspiring one another.  Overall, gender equality is a modern concept that can be applied differently based on different circumstances. As some men still get confused that gender equality is about making men less powerful, which can disrupt their roles, this writing demonstrates and encourages men to join hands to work toward gender equality. This action will eventually eliminate the tension between genders and pressure on women over the decades. Also, the purpose of creating a gender-equitable society is to support our daughters' generation, who will be free from being treated unequally and inadequately represented. Together, we can achieve this.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.

One Crow to 10 Crows in Cambodian Politics 

Written by: Houy Sivly, a 3rd year student majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Paragon International University Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: "Misinformation" by 3dpete is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)   Cambodian people may be familiar with a Cambodian proverb of “One Crow to 10 Crows” or ក្អែកមួយទៅជា​ក្អែកដប់ in Khmer. This popular phrase or slogan means that news or information from unconfirmed sources is being gossiped or spreaded from one person to 10 people and more very quickly. In fact, this slogan has reflected real life practices in many aspects. In this short article, I will explain how the “One Crow to 10 Crows'' slogan is manifested in Cambodian politics.  In the Cambodian context, the number of fake news articles has increased every day, while trusted news about politics is still limited or not yet placed under effective control. Mostly, fake news that comes from unknown or unreliable sources spreads across the country quickly through social media platforms, especially Facebook. This creates social anxiety and fear among many Cambodians. Some news is not true or does not come from reliable sources. It is simply misinformation that spreads quickly, just like one crow becomes 10 crows in a matter of seconds. As many Cambodian people still have a low level of political literacy, they are more likely to fall victim to those fake news.  In general, many Cambodian people tend to consider themselves as scholars or behave as experts even though they know nothing about what the fact or background to the story really is. Even worse, they still continue to share news, regardless of its sources, to convince other people such as their neighbors, family members, and the community to believe in what they share on Facebook or through other means. As many people do this, one piece of fake news will keep growing and spreading to become a popular news on social media platforms. As a result, fake news becomes a trend in social media and a source of discussion among Cambodians, both online and offline. This phenomenon affects the course of politics in Cambodia, and it is difficult to establish a common understanding between the government and the people, mainly because of misunderstanding and miscommunication resulting from the spread of fake news. Sometimes people just point fingers at each other, creating conflict and chaos both on social media platforms and in society.  Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambodia has faced a series of fake news outbreaks on social media platforms. Some media outlets are exploiting the opportunity to make money from online business by writing and sharing some articles based on their opinions rather than the actual facts. Noticeably, some of those media outlets try to pick up or write any stories that can attract the attention of many people. They do not care whether the stories are true or not. Some even share something to provoke hatred toward the government or to trigger disagreements and animosity among people or between the government and the citizens.    Within this context, some people have criticized the government’s actions and decisions by arguing that new policies or laws are designed to restrict people’s rights and to benefit the elite group and those in power. For instance, when the state of emergency law was proposed and later passed, there was a lot of criticism. Some stated that the law was the tool for the government to control people’s rights, especially when the government needs it, to transform the political development in the country, and to influence social behaviors. All of these suggest that political news in Cambodia is being blurred or exploited and has suffered from fake news. Thus, I believe that Cambodian people should not take social media like Facebook or other online platforms as the primary source to believe and analyze any emerging issues. Instead, they should think critically before sharing any news that they see on social media or hear from other people to avoid sharing fake news and getting into the situation of “One Crow to 10Crows”.  Sharing news without critically evaluating its sources may bring about chaos in the country.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Not an Obligation, But a Necessity

Written by: Chhuon Vanndasambath, a 4th year student majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Paragon International University Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo was taken on Saturday, 17th October 2020 at KAS Cambodia office after Politikoffee Forum on the topic: Current Cambodian Political Situation: Readiness for the Coming Elections.)   In a democratic society, it is very important for every citizen to participate in political affairs. Since democracy gives power to the ordinary people, they have the chance to decide who can be their leader whom they think will protect and respect their rights, decision, and desire. When a democratic state lacks political involvement from the people, different social issues may arise. Therefore, the citizens' basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities is crucial. To be a responsible citizen in a democratic state, one does not need to be involved directly in politics, but it is vital to have knowledge of the current political development and take part in shaping the political discourse.  In this article, I will discuss the role of a concerned citizen in a democratic country. First, it is not an obligation for everyone to prioritize their attendance in politics because it is their choice to either learn deeply about politics or put their focus on other activities such as study and work. But everyone needs to know what it means to be a responsible person in a democratic state as their lack of involvement or participation in politics may allow the politicians to do something that may not reflect the interest of the majority. Second, everyone is not obligated to join in events of political nature such as protests, demonstrations, or political campaigns that they think may bring risks or insecurity to them. However, there is a need for them to take part in voicing their concerns or criticism about the government's actions or policies that may have effects on their daily lives. The indifference or ignorance about politics may harm their interests, their community or their country as a whole.  Finally, although everyone is not obligated to be a politician to become a good citizen in a democratic society,  it is necessary for them to take part in voting to determine their future representative for the development of their community and country. This is not only important to them, but it is also vital to the future of the country and the next generation. So, why do you wait for your society to be improved as you wish when you do not fully take part in shaping the politics in your country? One country could not be developed if there are no citizens taking part in politics to hold politicians to account. In this regard, participation from the citizens is vital to the sustainability and development of a nation because their voices and decisions can lead to a new outcome and inform government policies that prioritize their needs and interests. Without meaningful political participation, people will likely become victims of politics as they are exploited by the politicians or any group of political elites who will make decisions on their behalf without regard to their pressing needs and concerns.  Remember, politics may not be your obligation in your daily life, but you need to be involved in politics as it has the power to affect your life and future as well as the future of the next generation.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Empowering Women: Key Determinant of Bargaining Power in Households and Social Dynamics in Cambodia

Written by: Khim Pichmolika, a 4th year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Taller de costura" by iolanda fresnillo is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)   With a female population of  7,980,374 or roughly more than 50 percent of its entire population, Cambodia has the advantages of a young and rigorous workforce, which is pivotal for its future. According to the General Population Census 2019 by the National Institute of Statistics, the female labor force participation rate (aged 15-59 years old) is 77.9 percent compared to 85.8 percent of their male counterparts.  In terms of employment rate by sector and sex, women at a glance dominate the primary and the secondary sector with 53 percent and 19.7 percent compared to men with 53 percent and 18 percent, respectively. In the tertiary sector, the male employment rate is around 29 percent compared to 23.8 percent of female employment. These numbers provide a classic example of a developing economy. Most women work in the primary and secondary sectors in which subsistence and labor-intensive activities are heavily vested.  Garment and footwear manufacture is the key secondary sector in Cambodia. The exports of footwear and garments have reached US$7.97 billion in 2019, making this sector a powerhouse that sustains the Kingdom’s economy with an average rate of 8 percent for the past two decades. In this sector, women made up 85 percent of the more than 650,000 workers, most of whom are young from rural communities. These developments have changed the socio-economic dynamics in Cambodia, especially in the countryside. The mobility of young girls and women from rural areas to the cities in the hope of having a better future is a crucial mechanism of bargaining power within households that engenders positive impacts on women empowerment.  When women join the workforce, generate income, and send remittances to their families, they often expect to earn trust from their families. Women can turn these actions into influence within their families and communities. This fact reveals how income generation activities that women undertake contribute to their renewed self-confidence and self-esteem. Moreover, this further enables women to have more autonomy and bargaining power over their household decisions. Being one of the prominent financial providers in their household, women can be a catalyst for change in gender roles within their families and even their communities. From being viewed as a caretaker of the family, a woman with the ability to earn money will have more means and opportunities to break free from social norms that have continued to deprive them of reaching their full potential.  Meanwhile, as income makers, women can also exert a specific influence on the political view of their family members as well as their communities at large. The situation enables them to be a key player in shaping the country's political landscape in the years to come. Moving from the rural areas, women workers are immersed in a novel environment full of diversities that include the survival instinct they will learn to adapt. The knowledge and experience they have acquired will find the way back to their families in the countryside.    The education and information they transmit to their families will play a crucial role in redefining how the old and new generations think about political affairs. There has not been yet an established casual relationship, but society has witnessed the gradual changes influenced by women workers in their households.  Furthermore, this is an enabling factor that encourages young girls and women to become active in public spheres. Also, empowered women are more willing to participate and engage in political affairs at national and sub-national levels. Once there are many women involved, there will be a change in conservative perceptions which disvalue women's political engagement. From my observation, women role models can play a significant role in aspiring and pushing young girls and women to the edge of their limits in challenging social norms that dictate their political involvements. Also, the participation of women in income-generating activities usually has a positive effect on families' welfare. They have more autonomy over their decisions on reproductive healths, which are critical for their lives. Women are also more likely to spend on education for their children. This long-term investment will benefit the improvement of their livelihoods. The next generations will be living in an environment with more opportunities accessible for all. It, in turn, will contribute to the sustainable growth of their respective communities. These scenarios are more of a visionary picture of our society when women are empowered. However, the actual situations in which women are encountering every day have not been this favorable. Among innumerable barriers that women have to break-through, there are a few noticeable challenges. First of all, the traditional view towards girls and education remains the most prominent obstacle, preventing female students from receiving proper education, which is crucial for their development. In addition to the inequality in education, discrimination against women in the workforce still noticeably persists. The unfair treatments demonstrated through the gender wage gap, sexual harassment in the workplace, gender respect, and unpaid labor have hindered their ability and capacity by capping their ambition and determination to grow. Realistically, it will take generations to eliminate these barriers, but the progress on gender equality we have witnessed paints a hopeful way forward.   Eventually, their economic empowerment can sustainably drive the political, economic, and social development in Cambodia. A striking example from the garment sector is the female workers have already altered our social dynamics. Challenges and potential solutions will continue to arise on par with the constant transformation fueled by their economic empowerment. The swift evolution in the roles of women will inevitably face criticisms and disapproval, which have been taking root in the traditional perceptions towards women. Regardless, the next generation of women has become more conscious about their rights and begins to stand up for themselves and other women. As long as we keep making progress, we will see women become a central pillar of our country's economic and social development.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Why We Should Normalize Menstruation Talk  

Written by: Phit Phariya, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Students in Kara Molla Primary School holding products for menstruation hygiene." by UNICEF Ethiopia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   Why do menstrual issues need to be discussed? Why do we have to care about menstrual well-being, and why should it be normalized? Here is as good as the time to converse on social stigma over the period taboo. Imagine if people everywhere can freely talk and are knowledgeable about period cycles and situations without any shames. They will understand that there is nothing dirty or impure when it comes to monthly bleeding. It is because a period is a normal and healthy aspect of women's reproductive health, which is natural and good. “Excuse me, can you help check out my back pant, is it stained with my period blood?” whispers a woman.  This kind of situation happens to almost every woman and girl out there. What they experience is just as familiar as A Talk Around Women Cycle! As being constrained by the existing cultural norms and customs within our society, we find it completely uncomfortable to speak about it freely and publicly. But I think there are plenty of things we can discuss here, and let's explore! Period shame hurts women! Periods are no joke; the issue can have severe unintended consequences for women and girls as they can be ashamed and are unable to carry on with their daily lives in many parts of the world. The silence around menstruation has harmed girls because they feel embarrassed to talk about this issue. How many times have you heard this: “Oh she must be on period”?- Even just once is beyond annoying. It is insane that we are still thinking about the stigma of menstruation when it affects most women heavily, and I am not going to stand for that. We always feel uncomfortable when buying sanitary pads in public; it always has to be covered with a black plastic bag, and we always have to place it in the hidden place. Besides, in public places, we always whisper to our female mates when we happen to need a pad because we are always afraid that other boy mates would have heard of what we need. When girls at school are asked what will make getting their period smoother, they habitually respond: “wrappers.” Everywhere, girls are told from a young age to keep their period issue private, but is it not generally out of guilt that we keep things like this to ourselves? The social stigma over period issue invalidates women’s emotions because of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It happens once our feelings are denied acknowledgement just in case they are period-related. With this, my point is that psychological validation matters to us, and it, of course, deserves greater attention, too. And what I want to emphasize is that we don't want our periods hidden as if it is a shameful secret, but we want a recognition that it is normal, healthy, and essential.  Lack of menstrual education in Cambodia The menstrual taboo causes the limit of understanding among women and men in terms of period knowledge. During their cycles, some view women as being spoiled or defiled, and since mentioning periods is taboo, menstrual education is seriously deficient. It consequently upholds the unhealthy habit due to the phobic social norm of shame-ness and shyness to women out there. They are missing out, and they can suffer health implications as a consequence. Instead of educating women and girls on changing tampons every four hours as well as clean their private areas regularly, they commonly are told to avoid cold drinks, shower, sour foods, and fermented fish when they are on their periods.  In the meantime, they should not drink ice water or coconut juice as it can block menstruation. These certain taboos remain despite their lack of scientific basis, which prevents them from following menstrual hygiene management. We have also grown up believing the menstruation issue should be secret as it is perceived as gross and unacceptable. But the absence of menstrual education and frequent open conversations on this issue can become a potential challenge to women's lifestyle anywhere. The menstrual cycle is a bodily function as normal as sweating. We should be grateful that our body works for us. Therefore, raising awareness of periods shamelessly and walking with confidence are maintaining our health and well-being.  We need to start normalizing period talk!  There is no shame for women and girls to talk and share experience on how our body works! Most of the time, when I share my period experience with other women, I always get a response: “I thought I was alone”. Girls are embarrassed even to talk about their menstrual problems with their family members, especially their dad, brother even with their female coworkers since women regard it as an inappropriate topic to raise. Embarrassment and mortification should not be a part of our menstrual experience, and a wider conversation about menstruation can help make people around us better understand the subject matter! Additionally, talking about periods is the most common thing to improve the quality and deepness of any relationship between those who have periods and others. The number of men who know about periods is still limited somehow, and this could lead to a misperception of menstruation. I experienced talking with a male mate that I am working on period-related things. He surprisingly responded, “Wah, I am not quite familiar with that stuff.” This indicates that an absence of period talk in our society is a culprit. Period talk is not just about women, but it is also about a concern for the environment and good hygiene for human beings. Most importantly, women can never be determined as weak by their menstrual bleeding. So, beginning to normalize menstruation conversation in our society is crucial to get rid of shame with confidence and enable other women and girls to unlock their full potential.  My suggestions on beginning normalization of period talk  There are some ways I would say we can do to support the normalization of period talk. To end menstruation stigma and taboo, discussing and sharing experiences about our menstrual cycle with our circles in everyday life should be carried out. Furthermore, we should be freely aware that there is nothing to be ashamed of as periods are natural, resilient, and liberated that our body is working for us accordingly. Apart from this, we should ensure the knowledge of menstruation in the school curriculum. Therefore, students, regardless of gender, can understand better about menstruation. This action contributes to the reduction of shame-ness and bullying as well as building supportiveness for women. In the meantime, teachers can educate students regarding menstrual and menstrual waste management. To support normalizing period talk, tampons, in addition to toilet paper, should be made available in public bathrooms so there will be no longer a feeling of shame and shyness over having a monthly period bleeding even without us knowing it. If women and girls do not live in a place where they can talk openly about their reproductive health concerns, this demonstrates gender inequality. We deserve love, kindness and also deserve to be treated like a goddess. We should feel blessed and worthy of this bleeding! And I stress an era of menstrual taboo is OVER!   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

It’s Time to Stop Discrimination against LGBTIQ People in the Workplace 

Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: "lgbt" by stockcatalog is licensed under CC BY 2.0)   “Can you become a straight person? Can you stop being a lesbian? Why don’t you get married to the opposite sex? You are not allowed to work here because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.” These are some questions and statements that LGBTIQ people normally hear on a daily basis. What is LGBTIQ? LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer.  In Cambodia, more and more LGBTIQ people are now beginning to reveal their identity and advocate for their rights, resulting in some positive changes in recent years. Some non-governmental organizations or youth groups are also working on promoting LGBTIQ rights and equality. Ten years ago, the term LGBTIQ might sound weird to many Cambodian people, but it may not be the case anymore.  Despite these, discrimination against LGBTIQ people is still happening in various forms including mental, physical, and sexual abuses. According to a research study conducted by Rainbow Community Kampuchea Organization in 2015 with 1,085 straight people and 478 LGBT people,  it was found that 86% of straight and 82% of LGBT respondents acknowledged that discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity was the main issue that LGBT people faced. People discriminate against LGBTIQ people for many reasons. They may believe that this world is originally created for men and women, not LGBTI people. Extreme followers of some religions such as Islam and Christianity strongly indicate that their religion disapproves of the LGBTIQ community because, as they believe, human nature permits only men and women to form an intimate relationship and family. Some people may assume that same-sex couples have no future, no happiness, and no sexual desire as opposite-sex couples. In Cambodia, the social norms and stereotypes embodied in this society may encourage discrimination against LGBTIQ people. For instance, when a family has an LGBTIQ child, a sense of shame may prevail among the family members since their neighbors and people around them are more likely to discriminate against the child and look down on him or her.  Meanwhile, LGBTIQ people may experience unequal employment opportunities as some workplaces tend to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) conducted a study with 118 LGBTQ people, and it was found that one in five of 111 respondents reported that they had been refused to work because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Among those who had been refused to work, over half reported that they had experienced this issue multiple times. 27 out of 109 respondents reported that they had not revealed their sexual orientation and gender identity during a job interview. Moreover, it was found that one in three of 112 respondents had faced harassment or bullying at their current workplace because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. I recently conducted an interview with one LGBTIQ person, Ms. K. H (her nickname). She said that she had faced various forms of discrimination from people around her since she was young. She had not identified herself in public as a lesbian, but people considered her as masculine by her outside appearance. She used to work in a place where she was discriminated against for a year, and it took her almost two years to heal from her darkest moment.  At the time, a group of people believing in patriarchy bullied her as she looked more masculine than feminine. People often asked her whether she would get married to a man or woman. There was a time they told her that “LGBTIQ people are worse than an evil. They don’t deserve to live in this world.” They told her to behave more girly. Besides, they used many sexual jokes, harassment, and bullying which discriminate against her and other LGBTIQ people. She suffered from depression and low self-esteem, causing her to be unproductive, and eventually she resigned from her workplace. Human Rights Are for Everyone Everyone, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, is equal under the international human rights law. According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” Also, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Meanwhile, Article 32 of the  Cambodian constitution states that “Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal freedom, and security. There shall be no capital punishment.” Based on all these laws, LGBTIQ people in Cambodia deserve fair treatment, not discrimination. Law enforcement applies to everyone. If one abuses another just because of their gender identity, they shall deal with the consequences under the law with no exceptions. Moreover, Cambodia is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 6 of the ICESCR recognizes “right to work”, which includes “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely choses or accepts and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.” Article 7 of the ICESCR recognizes the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.” Therefore, LGBTIQ people should not be discriminated against in the workplace. Everyone including LGBTIQ people should get equal work opportunities and conditions, fair wages, and equal value without any kinds of discrimination in the workplace.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published Standards of Conduct for Business in Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People in September 2017. There are five standards of conduct, such as respecting human rights, eliminating discrimination, providing support, preventing other human rights violations, and acting in the public sphere. These are the practical guidelines for the private sector to respect and reinforce human rights at all times as well as the LGBTI rights in the workplace, marketplace and community. Standing up for LGBTIQ Rights Everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have rights to choose what they love and don’t. The value of people is not determined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are many other factors that come into play, such as education, commitment, ethics, work efficiency, freedom, personal development, self-principles, skills, obedience to the law, and positive contributions to society. People cannot have happiness and peace unless they have freedom to be who they are and live their own life.  I firmly believe that the quality and outcomes of work do not depend on employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity, but on their knowledge, commitment, and dedication. If employers give space for their employees to freely choose to be who they are, they will be happier and more willing to contribute to the success of their workplace. For LGBTIQ people, despite their sexual orientation, they are important human resources contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.  Conclusion Overall, LGBTIQ people have faced numerous forms of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They have faced mental, physical, verbal, and sexual abuses. In addition, they have challenges in accessing and advancing their professional and personal development. From my standpoint, no one is superior to others because everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All religions spread love, peace, and harmony, not discrimination or hatred. If any religions teach people to hate and discriminate against one another, it is not a religion anymore. For workplaces in all sectors, they need to tackle and raise awareness of gender equality and give equal opportunities to everyone without discrimination or prejudice against their sexual orientation or gender identity. People have only one life. If straight people can follow their heart and dreams, LGBTIQ people should be able to do so, too. *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Understanding Deforestation in Cambodia

Written by: Theng Leangthai, a 3rd year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Editted by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Deforestation"by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” What do you think about his statement? Literally, forests are indeed key to every life on earth, but what human beings have been doing over the past decades appears to be going in the wrong direction. As can be seen, many countries around the world, including Cambodia, have been continuing to cut down trees for the sake of meeting their economic demands.  As a least developed country, Cambodia had been previously thought to be covered with large swaths of woodland and the home to a variety of animal and plant species. However, threatened by forest degradation, the country's forest cover decreased from 73% in 1993 to between 55% to 60% in 2015. In 2016, Cambodia just had 9.4 million hectares of forest cover, which accounted for 54% of the total land area of 18.1 million hectares. Surprisingly, the number continued to decline to 46.84% in 2018.  The factors contributing to forest degradation It appears that much of the forest area loss is due to the economic land concession, which is a part of the government's economic development policy. Economic land concession, by legal definition, is a long-term contract that allows concessionaires to clear land to develop industrial-scale agriculture, including large-scale plantations, construction of factories to process agricultural products, and livestock farming. The government also provided more than 270,000 hectares of protected forests to private companies in 2012 alone through the policy. It considers that this policy is an effective way to enhance economic development, which encourages job creation and revenue generation. Moreover, the ongoing illegal logging has also raised a grave concern as it keeps on devastating the forests. According to a report commissioned by the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch, Prey Land lost up to 7,511 hectares of forest cover in 2019, up by 73 percent compared to the previous year due to widespread forest clearing. Prey Lang is the last significant lowland rain forest on the Southeast Asian mainland. The forest is located in the northern part of Cambodia, west of the Mekong River, and covers approximately 5000 square kilometers. It is home to various endangered animal and plant species and up to 250,000 people--many of them are indigenous Kouy people. Additionally, a report from the UK Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) alleged that systemic bribery in Cambodia and Vietnam allowed illegal timer trafficking across borders. Its investigation report also discovered 300,000 cubic meters of wood harvested between November 2016 and March 2017--of which included expensive and rare rosewood--had been smuggled out of Cambodia with the help of Cambodia and Vietnamese officials, who reportedly had obtained up to $13 million in bribes.  The negative impacts of deforestation According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), nearly 80% of Cambodians live in rural areas, with 65% relying on agriculture, fisheries, and forestry for a living. As a result, their livelihoods and well-being are heavily reliant on forest resources. And deforestation, of course, threatens to deprive their decent income, food, and materials for shelter and fuel. Forests are critical because it saturates and controls water flows and mitigates the detrimental impacts of climate change. Due to the ongoing deforestation, Cambodia has suffered more frequent and more severe droughts, and the worst one in 50 years took place in 2016, affecting nearly every province across the country. Thousands of people in vulnerable communities have been seeking lean water sources, and many poor farmers have also lost their crops and livestock.  On the other hand, soil erosion and coastal flooding are also two other consequences of deforestation on a large scale. The soil erodes and gets washed away without trees, forcing farmers to change the place and continue the cycle. The disappearance of rainforest will also put animal and plant populations at a greater risk as the forest provides them with protection. Furthermore, the absence of trees could lead to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy forests capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and can serve as carbon sinks. Deforested areas lose this capacity, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Cambodia’s forests could store over 2.71 gigatons of carbon, approximately equal to the annual emissions of 2,200 coal-fired power plants in the United States. What can we do to address deforestation? Currently, the government already had a well-defined strategy for managing and conserving natural resources and biodiversity. Furthermore, the forestry law also provides a structure for management, harvesting, use, development and preservation of the forest while imposing harsher punishments against any offenders. Yet, more actions are still needed to tackle deforestation.  Firstly, I think the actions should include providing accurate information and taking timely intervention against the wrongdoers due to the fact that the police and local authority often arrive late when cracking down on illegal logging activities in the protected area. This condition allows impunity, which perpetrators can escape safely.  Secondly, there needs to be more accountability and transparency in the government's actions as they are essential in protecting the forests. In the meantime, the government should enable the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to participate and cooperate with the authorities through joint forest patrols as the same as other forest protection works. It also should be active in providing sufficient information on forest protection to the citizens. Doing so will contribute to the promotion of public awareness in which people can understand and keep track of the forest protection work in the country.  Last but not least, our government has the responsibility to strengthen the rule of law by taking prompt action to investigate any alleged forest crimes as well as any irregularities or misconducts among its officials since there have been accusations raised by local and international non-governmental organizations, and other environmental networks. By mentioning legal action, for the sake of deterring wrongdoers, the government can strictly maintain severe penalties as the past experiences tell us that even those being aware of the laws continue to commit crimes.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

All Hands on Deck: Youths and the Government’s Role in Building and Sustaining a Democratic Society

Writer: Keo Priyanith, a fresh graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations from Paragon International University Editor: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo was taken in Politikoffee's "Solidarity and Reflection Camp", which was held from 9-11 November, 2018 at Kirirom Resort.)   As a young Cambodian who graduated with an International Relations degree, I have discussed, at length with my peers, the domino theory, the creation of supranational institutions and a myriad of other recent global events. However, I can’t recall a time when we sat down to debate who should be on our local commune council or pored over the budgetary spending of our own state government. Perhaps this experience is limited to only me and my circle, but nevertheless, my hypothesis is that there currently appears to be a huge imbalance amongst Cambodian youth regarding their knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs. In recent years, there is a trend where young Cambodians tend to flock to international affairs and to direct their attention to writing about policies of foreign lands such as those of Kabul, Pyongyang and Washington DC rather than turning a critical eye to their own country's policies and s internal state of affairs. What has caused this trend and what impact could this negligence have on Cambodia’s democracy and political space? A possible answer could be the lack of a stimulating, concrete and robust civic education curriculum. Many studies have highlighted the importance of civic education and the role it plays in shaping a country’s democracy. But what is civic education? According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, civic education refers to processes that “affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities”. As the Center for Civic Education puts it, “Democratic self-government means that citizens are actively involved in their own governance; they do not just passively accept the dictums of others or acquiesce to the demands of others.”   A politically literate population can act as the vanguard in strengthening a country’s democracy by making the government more accountable and transparent. The population may also become more active in discussing issues in their communities and in the country as a whole. Aptly put, if we do not know about our surroundings, how will we care about what is happening around us?  Participatory budgeting, a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget,  perfectly represents this argument. Members of a community work together with civil society and elected officials for the betterment of their community while also restoring trust in the government and empowering citizens by “giving them real power over real money.”  It is powerful to see Cambodians rally for a cause that speaks to their moral principles. This illustrates the idea that when we start educating ourselves, we are empowering ourselves and our communities. Take the case of the military takeover in Myanmar. Many Cambodians, even those who stray from commenting on international affairs, are drawn to it and feel compelled to use social media to voice their frustration, fear and disgust of the actions of the military government. Some spectators lamented the lack of concrete action by ASEAN and other powers to take the necessary steps to stop the bloodshed.  However, the above thesis can only be accomplished when there is willingness from the political establishment to allow more space for political discussions. A rhetoric shared by some in the Cambodian political sphere is that young people do not need to concern themselves on political matters, and they would be better off by simply focusing on schoolwork and extracurricular activities. This rhetoric could explain why there is a disinterest from Cambodian youth to learn about their own country’s domestic affairs. Another possible cause is fear of negative repercussions from state authorities for acts of social media activism. This fear is not unaccounted for, For example, according to a recent VOD article, “more than 40 people [were] arrested for spreading alleged “fake news” about Covid-19 online, and in May three people were even briefly detained in relation to posting criticism about new traffic fines.” Assuming that people care and want to get involved, most are likely deterred from doing so because of the negative consequences they would face.     In short, while standing up for others is a noble act, we must not be dismissive of events that are happening in our own backyard. Cambodians, especially youth, should take heed of where their ignorance lays when it comes to national issues. They should be proactive in seeking information and supporting any cause that contributes to the common good. Similarly, state authorities should actively engage and utilize citizens’ contributions in order to truly be a government that works for the people. We as Cambodians can all do better by educating ourselves on a myriad of social and political processes that govern our lives.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.

Women's Participation in Forest Management Decisions: Challenges, Impacts, and Ways Forward

Written by: Vanly Keomuda, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Editted by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: "Floating in a forest 🌳 in these days of chaos, anger, heartbreak, injustice and fear i couldn't wish more for the quiet and beauty of nature... . . . . . . #beginningoftheend #nature #climatechange #beauty #cambodia #forest #travel" by franci castelli is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   When talking about the forest and its ecosystem, the most common discussion that we normally hear is the environmental services of the forest system that serves as the hub for biodiversity, the filter for the increasing greenhouse gas emission, and the regulator of the global carbon cycle and weather patterns. Besides the ecological benefits, forests also serve as essential economic and livelihood resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, nearly 1.6 billion people (around 25% of the world’s population) depend on forest resources as their source of food and income. The forest products provide people living near the forest with food, cooking and heating fuel, medicine, shelter and clothing, as well as income from selling the surplus of non-timber forest products (NTFP). In Cambodia, forest products are also one of the Cambodian people’s livelihood sources since 80 per cent of the country’s population are living in rural areas. They are more likely to depend on the forest and its resources. In the forest-dependent community, women are amongst the groups that depend most on the forest resources for their daily lives. Women tend to collect forest products and other NTFPs in the nearby forest for their household use. According to a recent USAID report, 80 per cent of women in rural Cambodia are involved in collecting and selling NTFPs. Even though both men and women may equally rely on forest products for their daily lives, women tend to be left out or are underrepresented when it comes to decision-making regarding forest management. In 2015, only 12 per cent of Forest Administration staff were female and less than 1 per cent were in management positions in both national and sub-national forest institutions. This suggests that women’s voices are underrepresented when it comes to making forest decisions that could impact their access to and usage of forest resources. Challenges for women to participate in forest management decision making Even though Cambodia’s Forestry Law has provided a legal framework for the involvement of user groups in forest management and protection (which includes women), women still find it difficult to participate in forest management decisions. The challenges for women to participate in forest management decision making could stem from the existing gender norms and institutional challenges. In terms of gender norms, although Cambodia is working on narrowing gender inequalities, patriarchy prevails in society, including in the forest sector. As a result, women’s voices and interests in forest management tend to be overlooked by their own forest communities. Furthermore, the traditional perception that women should work indoors in the kitchen has also discouraged women to work far from home or engage in any technical and physical forestry activities such as involvement in forest patrol. Even when women are keen to participate in forest management, they tend to be reluctant and lack confidence in their own capacity, thereby deterring them from actively participating in forest management efforts. On top of the societal norms, there are still some challenges in the gender mainstreaming process in forest policies and institutions. The 2003 sub-decree on Community Forest Management has a provision to encourage women to participate in the Community Forestry Management Committee (CFMC); however, the sub-decree did not specify the gender quota for women’s participation. As a result, women’s meaningful participation in forest management is limited as less than 10 per cent of community forestry groups have achieved a satisfactory level of women’s participation, However,  less than 5 per cent of women hold management positions in the CFMC. Furthermore, the gender working group that was established in the Forest Administration is facing limited financial and human resources, resulting in their inability to effectively implement the gender plan, conduct research, and monitor as well as evaluate the gender mainstreaming activities in the forest sector. Thus, it could be seen that although women are eager to participate in forest management, the remaining traditional norms and institutional challenges remain major barriers for women to fully participate in forest management decisions. Positive impacts of women’s participation in forest management decisions As mentioned above, women are also highly dependent on forest products; thus, their involvement in forest management decisions is significant in ensuring that the benefits from the forest products are equally distributed between men and women. Furthermore, the involvement of both women and men in forest management decisions is crucial for effective forest management and conservation since women could share different knowledge, skills, and experiences about forests. A 2013 study in Thailand showed that women are knowledgeable about market demand for forest products, especially non-wood forest resources. They also have an understanding of the impact of weather patterns on the availability of forest products. Therefore, women’s involvement in forest management planning plays a significant role in formulating forest rules and regulations that are socially accepted. In addition, studies have also shown that women’s participation in forest management decisions could also improve forest governance. For example, communities that have more women involved in the forest committee tend to have better forest conditions and forest regeneration. Therefore, women’s involvement in forest management decisions tends to lead to better institutional functioning of forest conservation, good governance, and fair sharing of forest resources. Ways forward  Seeing the benefits of women’s involvement in forest decisions on forest conservation and reforestation, women should be encouraged to participate in forest management decisions in Cambodia. In doing so, Cambodia’s government and relevant stakeholders should consider the following recommendations: The government and CFMC should continue to focus on providing capacity development training for women on technical forestry skills and confidence building so that women could be confident in involving in forest-related activities and forest management decisions. The government and relevant stakeholders should continue to spread awareness of the benefits of women’s involvement in forest management as well as providing training on gender equality and gender analysis. In doing so, it could encourage men to promote women’s involvement and to raise awareness on gender-specific issues when formulating forest rules and regulations. Projects and programmes that are working on forest sectors in Cambodia should mainstream and integrate gender equality in their work-plan and agenda in order to encourage more women involvement in forest-related activities. The government should discuss setting gender quotas in CFMC to ensure that women are properly represented in CFMC.  Furthermore, adequate resources, including financial and human resources should be allocated to gender working groups and gender focal points in the forest administration so that they could effectively implement gender mainstreaming activities as well as providing relevant support. Taking everything into account, women's involvement in forest management decisions is significant in ensuring that the forest rules and benefits are acceptable and equally distributed amongst the groups that rely on forest resources. This would consequently lead to good forest governance and improve forest conservation and reforestation in Cambodia. Therefore, it is imperative that women should be encouraged to participate in forest management through capacity development as well as through institutional means that recognise the need for women’s involvement in forest management decisions. Women themselves should also step up and seek opportunities to participate in forest management and conservation efforts to ensure that their needs and interests are adequately addressed.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.