A budget planning which has gender consideration in it from the very start will go a long way to reduce disparities between men and women in Cambodia, allowing them to enjoy more equally the benefits of the budget allocation and spending as well as opportunities to participate in political and socio-economic activities.
In this spirit, the Ministry of Economy and Finance launched its “Five Year Strategic Plan for Gender Mainstreaming in the Financial Sector: 2008-2012” on 14 October. The event was presided over by H.E. Keat Chhon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, and attended by representatives of line ministries and development partners, including UNDP.
“Gender mainstreaming in the financial sector means all issues and needs of men and women are addressed in developing policies, programmes, and project to ensure that men and women receive equitable share of benefits from growth and development,” he said in his opening speech to the workshop.
The strategic plan has five main objectives: 1) to raise awareness and promote gender equality in economic policies as well as public finance management among the ministry's officials; 2) to mainstream gender into the reform programme of public finance management; 3) to mobilize support for implementation of gender mainstreaming programmes and projects; 4) to improve access to financial services for female entrepreneurs; and 5) to increase the role of women in the ministry's management and technical levels.
It is part of Cambodia's National Strategic Development Plan where gender equality policy is a core component. The Ministry of Women's Affairs provides technical support and gender mainstreaming capacity building to line ministries to develop their own Gender Mainstreaming Action Plans. So far 18 Cambodian ministries have devised their own GMAPs of which 11 have been developed with support from UNDP.
H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women's Affairs, said the formulation of GMAP underlined growing awareness that tackling gender gap is not just the job for women-specific institutions but concerns all sectors in the society. More focused attention, however, is needed on Cambodian women many of whom still remain trapped in the traditional burden of being the home care-takers. Some 22 percent of Cambodian households are headed by women, a number the minister said is the highest in the region. This is coupled with other challenges still affecting women, such as discrimination, high maternal mortality rate and domestic violence, despite progress in improving their status during the past decade.
“By helping women we are helping ourselves. That is because when women can improve their situation to reap the benefits from the resources and development in the country, they can also share those benefits within family, community, and society as a whole,” she said in her remarks.
“Therefore, gender mainstreaming is not the work for the Ministry of Women's Affairs alone. It is a work which requires our collective response,” she said, adding that budget plays a key role in implementing any gender action plans.
Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon said the finance ministry's strategic plan could serve as a catalyst for other government's ministries, provincial offices and institutions in preparing their own gender equity budget plans to secure financial resources for implementation.
He also admitted that, even in his own ministry, the policy and leadership roles are still dominated by men.
“From time to time we have had (senior management) meeting and I would open it by saying ‘ladies and gentlemen', but when I looked around there were virtually only men in the room. At the ministry we have women working at the technical level but there are not many of them at the policy and leadership levels yet,” he said.
“We need to work harder to find women to fill in the various positions in the ministry,” he added.
Cambodia is not alone in having women lagging behind men in political and socio-economic fields – from education to decent employment.
Despite laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, women still earn only 54 to 90 per cent of what men earn, UNDP Country Director Ms. Elena Tischenko said in her remarks, citing the 2010 UNDP's Regional Human Development Report on Gender, Power, Voice and Rights.
She said the MEF's strategic plan showed the commitment of the leaders and staff of the Ministry of Economy and Finance to make the Public Financial Management Reform Programme gender-responsive through integration of gender equality mechanisms in national budget formulation and reporting processes.
“Such commitment is absolutely crucial to achieving” the Cambodia Millennium Development Goal 3 to promote gender equality and empower women as well as to helping “to deepen and solidify achievements in all other MDGs,” she said.
She said UNDP Cambodia, in the new country programme for 2011-2015, will focus its support on helping the government “to ensure that policy improvements do translate into measurable progress in political, social and economic empowerment of women.”