COVID-19 Op-ed

Assessing the Social and Economic Rights of Cambodian Women Garment Workers amid Covid-19

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Sophorn
TUY
Researcher/Librarian, Center for the Study of
Humanitarian Law (CSHL), Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE),
Cambodia

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected  men and women
differently (Durant, 2020). Researchers have been concerned with its impact
to gender inequality around the world, particularly the financial impact,
since the spread of the disease would exacerbate the amount of unpaid care
work done (Promundo, 2020). In fact the research has found that women have
experienced higher economic costs than men, but also had a higher risk of
losing their jobs whist at the same time having multiple roles to perform
(Durant, 2020).According to the COVID-19 Regional Safety Assessment, Cambodia
is ranked number 14 among 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (Deep
Knowledge Group, 2020). The first positive case of the Covid-19 in Cambodia
was officially announced on 27 January 2020 and the number increased to 122
by 12 April. Then after a further month without any cases, the number started
to increase in the period of 21 May to 21 July to 197, of which 43 were
women. So far, the recovery rate in Cambodia has been 71.07% (MoH, 2020).
Most cases originated from people who returned from travel outside the
country.  To protect social order and citizen’s health, the Law of the
State of Emergency was proclaimed on 29 April 2020 in compliance with Article
22 of the Constitutional of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Yet this law
has not yet been proclaimed, as the Covid-19 numbers in Cambodian have not
yet intensified.Cambodian Women Garment Worker’s Economic
Impacts in Time of the Covid-19
During the
Covid-19 pandemic, all schools and universities have been closed. Whereas
some state institutions, NGOs and private companies allowed their employees
to work from home, some factories closed or suspended operations. In the
meantime, for women who have children, they need to take care of them and
manage the housework. And there are many workers in Cambodia who have lost
their jobs or are expected to lose their jobs(Globe, 2020).According to the
report of International Labour Organization (ILO) 2018, there are 548
factories in Cambodia which employ 602,607 workers (ILO, 2018). Due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, about 410 factories in Cambodia have suspended operations,
affecting over 240,000 workers (Sorn, 2020). In one factory, there were 763
workers who were left unpaid after the owners fled without paying them their
due compensation (BHRRC, 2020).A higher percentage of Cambodian women work in
factories compared to men, with about 80% of women in the Cambodian labour
force being factory workers. Thus, Covid-19 has exacerbated women’s economic
stress, particularly their monthly income. Most of them spend their salary on
rent and and other household expenses as well as sending a portion to their
parents in their hometowns (Ros, 2020). Further, 90% of the workers have had
loan at bank, microfinance institution or rural creditor (Sorn, 2020).The
Royal Government of Cambodia banned travelling for all Cambodia citizens
particularly garment workers during Khmer New Year (KNY) on 13-16 April,
although some workers ignored the prohibition and returned to their
homelands. Then 5 000 workers were quarantined for 14 days without pay before
returning to work (Sen David, 2020; Ros, 2020), and about 10 000 lost their
jobs because of the Covid-19 fear after gathering in their home provinces
during KNY (Sen David, 2020). Moreover, some landlords did not allow workers
to return to their rooms unless they could prove that they are Covid-19
negative. And a female garment worker was fired from a factory because she
refused to adhere to the government travel ban during Khmer New Year
(Hoekstra, 2020).Cambodian Government’s Implementation to Protect
and Promote Women’s Economic during the
Covid-19
Based on article 31 of the Constitution
of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Cambodian government recognized the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and all relevant international human rights
treaties. The Cambodian state ratified the International Covenant on Economic
Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992. Hence the
government has duties to ensure that everyone has enjoyment of economic,
social and cultural rights without discrimination. It also developed the
National Strategic Development Plan, 2019-2023 for promoting, protecting and
empowering women and for implementing the Rectangular Strategy (RS) Phase IV
in order to grow employment equity and efficiency throughout the period up
until 2050 (RGC, 2018). Lastly, the government has integrated with the ASEAN
economic area and assigned all line ministries to implement gender equity for
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).As part of
protecting people from the Covid-19 virus, the Cambodian government issued
announcements and disseminated information on safety measures in the media.
All KTV (karaoke clubs) and movie theaters and public events in Cambodia have
been temporarily suspended since 17 March 2020 (ODC, 2020). And all schools
have been closed since 14 April 2020 (GCNP, 2020).Khmer New Year celebrations
this year were also suspended to control the spread of Covid-19 (ODC, 2020).
Other religious and mass gatherings were also banned (Khmer Times, 2020).
Similarly, a limitation of movement was also imposed restricting travel to
other provinces, except for business, work, health care and other necessary
purposes (Sun, 2020).The Cambodian government announced in early July a
payment of 40 USD to 70 000 workers laid-off due to the Covid-19 situation
(Sorn, 2020). Though this amount is less than 40% of the minimum wage, it is
just enough for making rental payments, but not enough for food, loans and
remittances to parents and/or children in workers’ hometowns (Hoekstra,
2020).ConclusionThe
Cambodian government has comprehensive laws and policies in order to protect,
promote, and empower women, particularly in improving employment equity.
However, there has been de facto employment disparity in Cambodian during the
Covid-19 pandemic this year. Most factories in Cambodia have been suspended
and closed, hence as 80% of factory workers are women, they are indeed facing
immediate financial crisis.The government should cooperate with relevant
stakeholders to provide enough support to the laid-off workers whilst factory
operations are suspended. Otherwise, they should help diversify production to
products that can be  exported to international markets. Furthermore,
they should provide financial and technical support as well as promote
agriculture for internal as well as international markets.References:

————————————— Article 22
“When the nation faces danger, the King shall make a public proclamation
placing the country in a state of emergency, after unanimous agreement from
the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly and the President
of the Senate.” Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and
empower all women and girls

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