Women in Cambodia Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Cambodia

Women in Cambodia
Khmer Traditional Costume.jpg
A Khmer woman in traditional outfit
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)250 (2010)
Women in parliament18.1% (2012)
Women over 25 with secondary education11.6% (2010)
Women in labour force79.2% (2011)
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.474 (2019)
Rank117th out of 162
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.688 (2021)
Rank103rd out of 156

Women in Cambodia, due to the influence of the dominant Khmer culture, are traditionally expected to be modest and soft-spoken. They are to be well-mannered, [3] industrious, [4] and hold a sense of belonging to the household. It is expected that they act as the family's caregivers and caretakers, [3] financial administrators, [4] and serve as the "preserver of the home". As financial administrators, women can be identified as having household authority at the familial level. [5] Khmer women are expected to maintain virginity until marriage, become faithful wives, [3] and act as advisors to their husbands. [4] Women in Cambodia have also be known as “light” walkers-- "light" walking and refinement of the Khmer women is further described as being "quiet in […] movements that one cannot hear the sound of their silk skirt rustling".[4]

In recent years, women have become more active in the traditionally male-dominated spheres of work and politics in Cambodia.


Cambodian woman

In the wake of the Cambodian Civil War, Cambodia suffered a deficit in male laborers. As a result, the women took on the responsibilities previously done by men. [4] Under Cambodian law, women are entitled to "equal pay for equal work". However, in reality, most women receive lower wages than their male counterparts. [4] During the 1990s, many "uneducated young women" from rural areas ventured into the city to work in garment factories.[4]

In 2004, the organization, Gender and Development for Cambodia, stated that 6% of the female workforce in Cambodia is paid.[6]


A Buddhist nun in Cambodia.

Khmer women are often active in worshipping at Buddhist temples and participating in religious ceremonies-- particularly during the thngai sil (Khmer: ថ្ងៃសីល; English for "holy days"). Some women not only participate as worshippers, but become Buddhist nuns (យាយជី yeay chi)-- particularly the widowed and the elderly.


13.8% of Cambodian women were reported as being illiterate in 2019. In 2004, it was reported that only 16% of the girls in Cambodia were enrolled in lower secondary schools. [6] Girls in Cambodia lack access to education due to gender role expectations and other socio-economic realities. Girls in Cambodia are needed at home to take care of younger siblings, perform household duties, and support the head of the home. Other factors include extreme poverty, the distance between home and school, as well as an ever-present fear for personal safety while traveling alone. [4]

However, despite these low statistics, there is a growing number of women present in Cambodia's universities. As of 2004, 20% of university graduates were women.[6]

Funded by Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, SHE Investments and Youth Business International (YBI) created an initiative to help underserved female business owners recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this program, women learn about digital literacy, crisis management, financial management, and business model adaption. As of September 2021, 94 out of 97 women graduated and said they would recommend the program to others. In addition, 78 businesses remained operational at the end of the program. Monthly revenue of the participants increased by 169 percent. A total of 584 jobs were either retained, re-hired, or newly created.[7]

Political status[edit]

From the 1980s to present day, the number of female participants in Cambodian politics has remained low. They are under-represented in high-level positions at both the local and national levels of the government. [4] Since 1993 there has been a modest rise in the participation of Cambodian women including leadership in non-governmental organizations focusing on the issues and rights of women.[4]

It was reported in 2004 that 10% of National Assembly members, 8% of Commune Council members, and 7% of Cambodian judges were women.[6]

Legal status[edit]

Throughout the nation’s history and within national legislation, men and women in Cambodia have always had equal rights. [4] This equality is also stated in the Constitution of Cambodia.[4] Cambodian women benefit from inheritance laws. These laws mean that they can own property, "bring property into a marriage", and claim the property as their own if they choose to do so. Women in Cambodia can also easily obtain a divorce. [4] In 2005, Cambodia outlawed marital rape.[8]


Prostitution in Cambodia encompasses local women, [4] women from Vietnam, [9] and is being linked to the sex trade in nearby Thailand. As a result of this wide-spread prostitution, approximately 2.8% of Cambodia's population are infected with HIV/AIDS.[4]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Women and girls in Cambodia are trafficked both domestically and throughout the world.[10] In many cases, they are threatened and forced into prostitution, marriages, and even pregnancies.[11]

Domestic violence[edit]

Especially in rural communities, Cambodian women are not only susceptible to domestic violence, but also have "little legal recourse". [5] Due to limited education, many Cambodian women are unable to protect themselves from discrimination, gender inequality, violence, and abuse. They live unaware of their legal rights and/or global human rights standards.[6]

In 2004, Gender and Development for Cambodia reported that "23% of women have suffered physical domestic abuse".[6]

Social status[edit]

A young Cambodian waitress waiting on customers.

Of late, there has been much discussion over the roles of Cambodian women in the society of today. What Cambodian tradition tell us about their daily roles is being revisited. In order to reach gender equity, gender norms need to reflect the present era in regard to leadership roles. Some would say that elevating a woman’s worth from the traditional representations of women in Khmer culture and stating that a woman isn’t second to a man,[12] would help to make Cambodian women their own agents.

In recent years, young women in Cambodia have been influenced by Western ideas which are contrary to traditional Cambodian culture. One example, found particularly in the capital of Phnom Penh, is that young female Cambodians are overtly consuming liquors and other alcoholic beverages in restaurants. Other areas in which Western influence is detected include a sense of equal rights between men and women, peer pressure, companionship, experimentation, trouble within the family, abandonment by a boyfriend, and through advertising.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gender Inequality Index" (PDF). HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORTS. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  2. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2021" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Chey, Elizabeth. The Status of Khmer Women, Mekong.net
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o The Status of Women in Society, seasite.niu.edu
  5. ^ a b Gender Roles and Statuses, everyculture.com
  6. ^ a b c d e f The Status of Women in Cambodia, Gender and Development for Cambodia, online.com.kh
  7. ^ "Results just released of teaching digital literacy to female workers - Khmer Times". 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  8. ^ UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) (20 January 2011). "Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture: Cambodia". CAT/C/KHM/CO/2. Retrieved 8 March 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ Cambodia, Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation, uri.edu
  10. ^ "Cambodia UN ACT". UN ACT.
  11. ^ "Inside the world of Cambodia's child sex trade, as told through the eyes of a survivor". ABC News. March 8, 2017.
  12. ^ Hill, Peter S; Ly, Heng Thay (2004-01-01). "Women are Silver, Women are Diamonds: Conflicting Images of Women in the Cambodian Print Media". Reproductive Health Matters. 12 (24): 104–115. doi:10.1016/S0968-8080(04)24148-9. ISSN 0968-8080. PMID 15626201. S2CID 25613459.
  13. ^ Women in Cambodia are increasingly becoming social drinkers. Phnom Penh Post. April 6, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

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