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Cambodia - Women Leaders Gather to Discuss Their Challenges, Strengthen their Networks, and Have Some Fun

By: Expat Advisory Posted: March-17-2006 in
Expat Advisory

There was a time, not so long ago, when International Women's Day would have passed in Cambodia without most people noticing. But its significance is recognized by more people now with each passing year.

On March 17th, more than 200 women gathered at a Women Leaders reception to celebrate International Women's Day..

The reception was hosted by four ambassadors and the head of the World Bank in Cambodia- all of whom are women

It was organized by the Australian Ambassador, Lisa Filipetto, Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jinfeng and Cuban Ambassador Nirsia Castro Guevara, who is vice dean of Cambodia's diplomatic corps, and Nisha Agrawal, Country Manager of the World Bank. The Guest of Honor at the reception was H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, the Minister for Women's Affairs.

The reception was intended to strengthen the linkages between women in leading positions and highlight the important contributions that women have made in the economy and society of Cambodia. "We are hosting this event because we believe in the power of women to improve their social and economic position in society," said H.E Mrs. Nirsia Castro, Ambassador of Cuba. "By networking together, we can look at ways that we can support women, in our work, our community and our homes. We are part of a global sisterhood of women. We face many of the same challenges – obtaining positions of influence and power, helping the disadvantaged in our communities, and ensuring that our daughters, and the daughters of others, will reach full potential."

"The female Ambassadors and the head of the World Bank in Cambodia here today have worked in many countries," she said. "We have gained strength from seeing how women have been able to overcome even the most adverse of circumstances. Our hearts also break when we see women who suffer from wars, malnutrition, disease, domestic violence and the poverty cycle. As women in positions of influence we all have a responsibility to make the lives of other women better, whenever we can. All of the women here today are trying to do that in some way or another. We want to encourage you and assure you of our support."

Minister of Women's Affairs H.E. Ing Kantha Phavi said at the reception that it was the first time the Ministry had participated in such an event and its purpose was to exchange and share experience on the challenges that women face and to share solutions. "Our aim is to strengthen women's networking and to share experiences and find solutions for women," she said. "We also need to have a women's movement in order to promote and protect women's interests."

She added that though only women could know the problems of women and find the solutions to those problems, nevertheless there is also a need for the Government, Senate and National Assembly and other institutions to support and to promote women.

On March 5, at an earlier celebration of International Women's Day, Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen asked why we take only one day in 365 days to celebrate the international women's day and why not all 365 days. "Are the remaining 364 days for men?" he asked. The prime Minister said that "the Royal Government aimed at ensuring Gender Equality in the economic and social development process through women's capacity building, changing social attitudes--such as the discrimination against women--and ensuring the rights and opportunities to receive health care, education, skill training, economic resources and the opportunity to participate equally in socio-economic development activity as well as receiving protection from the law with justice, in order for women to avoid living with violence, trafficking, rape and other forms of abuse. Another important aspect of this work has been the effort to increase and maximize the proportion of women's participation at all levels in national institutions, from the middle to local levels."

Nisha Agrawal, Country Manager of the World Bank, and one of the hosts of the reception said "While Cambodia is gradually making progress in attaining gender equality; much more could be done to accelerate the process. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on March 5, an important step would be to ensure the participation of more women in important public institutions such as the National Assembly and Senate, commune councils, and of course the Government. These women would not only provide excellent leadership in their own right, but equally importantly, would also serve as role models for younger Cambodian women who will be the leaders of the next generation. It is very striking that at important meetings in Cambodia, such as the recent Consultative Group Meeting earlier this month, there was only one woman on the Government's side at the main table, and that was the Minister of Women's Affairs. This is also true at many of the workshops and conferences that we attend with Senior Government officials. We look forward to working with many more female commune councilors, National Assembly members, and senior Government officials after the next round of elections and appointments for these positions. This will help realize the vision that the Prime Minister outlined in his March 5 speech for greater gender equality in Cambodia."

Nisha added that the feedback from participants of the March 17th reception was very positive. "People really enjoyed this high energy, high excitement event and many expressed the hope that this was the first of many more to come. I certainly found it to be one of the most enjoyable events that I have participated in my three years in Cambodia. And I also hope that from now on this will become an annual event."

Saroeun Bou, Communications Specialist with the World Bank Office in Phnom Penh contributed with this article. This story and other articles are featured in the April 2006 issue of the external monthly Cambodia Newsletter.

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