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        The status of women in Cambodia and Vietnam                        anth. 329  

 

        Southeast Asia is a region that has faced great turmoil over the last few centuries.  The countries were subjugated under the colonial rule of the French and the Dutch.  They have faced wars and conflicts on nearly every level, with the European powers, with neighboring governments and even civil conflict.  In the last few decades the nations of southeast Asia have faced unprecedented economic growth, though most recently the ‘Asian miracle’ economy has collapsed, leaving rising unemployment and lack of monetary resources.  All of these events greatly affect the local populations, though women are particularly hard hit by these issues.  As it had been said, the measure of a nations development can be found in the status of its women.   The well being of women is intricately linked to the well being of their nation, and when a nation suffers a political, economic, or military setback, so to does the status of its women.  As the countries of Southeast Asia have faced conflicts and turmoil so have the many women who live there. 

            One measure of women’s status is their role in the economy and politics.  Women’s ability to participate in the local political and economic system can contribute to their well being in other areas as well.  When a nation’s women have political empowerment they are able to participate in the system and contribute to policies that can improve their situation.  A woman with a steady and reasonable income is better able to provide for the health and education of herself and her family.  Particularly in the case of Southeast Asia, women who have knowledge of laws and who are able to participate in the government to their benefit, as well as being able to find reasonable employment, are less likely to be victimized by the growing sex trade of the region.  The sex trade of Southeast Asia has had a major presence ever since the Vietnam war and contributing factors can be traced even further back.  With the rise of capitalism and globalism in the region the industry has only grown.  Women may be coerced, tricked or forcibly sold into prostitution, but they may also enter willingly on the belief they will be making good money.  The women are often poor, uneducated, and primarily rural, and perhaps most importantly they are either unemployed or underemployed and selling themselves seems to be their only viable option.

            Cambodia and Vietnam are two prime examples to study the economic and political status of women.  The women of both nations have traditionally enjoyed a higher status relative to other nations of the region, but this status is at a pivotal point in these nations’ developments.  The political and economic status of the women in Cambodia and Vietnam has been greatly affected by the political turmoil of the last few decades as well as the seemingly positive shifts to more market oriented economies and more democratically elected governments.  Vietnam has seen a rise in the segregation of labor, with women taking up lower paying, lower status positions.  Cambodia was already in a similar situation, although the women of both countries are increasingly having to support their families by themselves, since they significantly outnumber the men in their nation.  Although the sex trade has been firmly entrenched in South Vietnam since the Vietnam war, it has most recently experienced growth in North Vietnam and Cambodia.  This growth is being accompanied by a rise in the exploitation and trafficking in women and girls and a stagnation or drop in the political and economic status of women.

            In the past traditional societies of Cambodia and Vietnam the women controlled trade.  Early European traders would enter into mutually beneficial relationships with local women, the men gaining connections to trade further inland and the women gaining access to goods brought in.  Both countries had a division of labor among gender lines.  The women were in charge of market trading and household finances, men being involved in other areas such as politics or agriculture, although both genders may have participated in farming.  The bilinear kinship system of Cambodia offered the women equal property and inheritance rights, as well as protection from any abusive relationship.  Women in Cambodia today still have a large measure of these property rights although the government’s laws are hard to enforce.  Cambodian women also have equal rights in bringing divorce suits to court although some may be limited by certain economic and social conditions.  Women in Vietnam also enjoyed a similar role in trade, although the Confucian ideals of that society served to limit many of their rights.  Confucianism is based on five basic relationships, one of which is the subordination of the wife to husband.  The subordination of women was regarded as integral to the natural order of the universe.  By the nineteenth century the limited foreign and domestic trade of Vietnam was controlled by the Chinese, so even local women had little to no participation in the market beyond that which was extremely localized.

            There are many recent historical events which have contributed to the current situation of women Vietnam and Cambodia.  The recent political history of Cambodia is closely linked to the involvement of Vietnam.  Until the 1950’s Cambodia served as a quiet colony of France.  By the time of the Vietnam war Cambodia had gained independence and was being ruled by an authoritarian Prince Sihanouk.  The rule of the French and then of Sihanouk allowed for little social development as far as the status of women was concerned.  The neutral Cambodia had been receiving aid from several countries, including the U.S., until the encroachment of the Vietnam war.  The North Viet minh and the Viet cong began using Cambodia as a safe haven and South Vietnam began to send in cross border forays and airstrikes into Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk soon aligned himself with North Vietnam.  In the 70’s though, Sihanouk was ousted and the new Khmer republic realigned with South Vietnam.  The U.S. and South Vietnam attempted to  drive the North Vietnamese out of Cambodia but only managed to drive the rebel troupes deeper into the country while bringing even more fighting into Cambodia.  The North Viet Minh soon began to train guerrillas for the Cambodian opposition force commonly known as the Khmer Rouge.  The Khmer Rouge was installed in 1975.  The party proceeded to overhaul the socio-economic system in Cambodia, resettling urban populations in rural collectivization camps and eventually massacring millions from the educated middle classes.  Fighting continued in Cambodia as the government took up arms against Vietnam, although in 1979 Hanoi invaded and ousted the Khmer rouge, establishing the one party, pro-Vietnamese government, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.  The Khmer Rouge continued opposition though and there ensued a decade of civil war, which inhibited any attempts at development and restructuring.  Vietnam withdrew in 1989 and the new coalition government began the task of rebuilding Cambodia.[i]

            All of this fighting carries severe demographic implications, precluding any beneficial social developments that may have been needed.  During the periods of civil unrest the governments themselves were too concerned with their own agendas to consider many issues of social development, particularly the rights of women.  For more than two decades the country was cut off from any foreign aid while any domestic funds went to the military, depriving education and health care. Any advances the nation may have made in the areas of education or sciences, which may have benefited the situation of women, were eliminated by the Khmer rouge’s genocidal tactics. 

            Although Vietnam experienced similar turmoil and even more wars, unlike Cambodia these events seemed to offer some temporary advancement in the status of women, particularly in North Vietnam.  North Vietnam began fighting colonial powers early in the century in the first and second Indochina wars, for independence and for the liberation of South Vietnam.  Consequently South Vietnam experienced different events leading to modern gender issues, although the post-unification implications remain the same.  The presence of socialism in Vietnam tended to contribute to the status of women, since government policies were instituted to counter balance the traditional values that held women as inferior.  Besides the first and second Indochina wars Vietnam was also involved in the Vietnam war, or American war as they refer to it, as well as the previously mentioned conflicts in Cambodia.  In both countries the conflicts resulted in a mass mobilization of the male work force, to take up arms for the cause.  In Vietnam this mobilization left a hole that was to be filled by women.  Legislation was passed declaring the equality of women so that they would have more freedom to fill traditionally male jobs.  The North’s collectivization of labor was part of a greater strategy to produce a surplus for industrialization, and the near universal conscription of males made women’s participation crucial.  Women in North Vietnam were portrayed as fresh-faced and patriotic, much like the American Rosy riveter of world war two.  The government established Vietnam Women’s Union started a campaign exhorting their constituents to fulfill “three responsibilities”: to take up the slack in agricultural and industrial production, to assume leadership positions in both their households and local administrations and to encourage their male kin to fight for reunification. The government still considered such efforts insufficient in 1965, and in 1967 the Central Committee of the Communist Party passed resolution 53, which established formal job quotas; women were to fill 35% of all jobs, 50-70% in education, medicine and light industry. The participation of women in political organizations was higher than at any other point in Vietnam’s history, from 1965 to 1972 the percentage of women on people’s councils at the provincial, district and commune levels increased an average of 18.5 percent.  Men still maintained a hold on leadership positions though, and after the war these figures deteriorated.  Women currently hold 17 percent of the National Assembly, in 1971 this figure peaked at 32 percent.[ii]

            There is little corresponding data on Cambodia for this time.  Though during the ‘60’s and 70’s there were several factions vying for power in Cambodia, and the government would not have had the same infrastructure as Vietnam to support such campaigns that were aimed at changing social norms.  The only regime that made an attempt at socialism, the theories of which tend to promote gender equality, was the Khmer Rouge, whose horrifying tactics prevented any benefit to the nation or its people.  Vietnam established the Vietnam Women’s Union to carry out the programs promoting the equality of women, while no such agency existed in Cambodia.  North Vietnam’s secure government was able to establish social policies to aid the war effort while during these conflicts the Cambodian nation was simply thrown into turmoil.

            Up until the reunification South Vietnam may have experienced a different history, experiencing less of a mobilization of male labor and also less efforts to promote the equality of women, but after reunification the socialist regime carried the policies of the North over to the South, and many men were taken and placed in reeducation camps.  With the presence of troops in South Vietnam the women there faced a more unique problem.  An industry grew up around the military bases to provide the foreign soldiers with ‘rest and relaxation girls’, better known as prostitutes.  Nearly 200,000 girls and women were employed as R & R girls, and the industry continued to find demand even after the Americans withdrew and the bases closed down.  The demand was picked up by the tourist industry.  Tourism was heavily encouraged by foreign powers, such as America and the World Bank, as a way for Vietnam to earn the revenue to pay off their foreign aid loans.  The government of Vietnam implicitly promoted sex tourism to bring in money.  This tourism continued to foster the sex industry, promoting its growth, so it has now become a major issue not only in southern Vietnam but in northern Vietnam and Cambodia as well.  A similar situation can be seen in Thailand and the Philippines where there were also many foreign military bases.

            By the 1990’s both countries had begun the process of restructuring.  Cambodia had finally secured a coalition government, and Vietnam had begun the process of shifting to a market economy with its policy of Doi Moi in the mid 80’s.  Both events had an effect on women’s status, in Cambodia the door had been opened to women to become involved in politics and to work toward improving their status.  Vietnam, though, began to see an increase in the labor segregation and women’s status seemed to be going downhill.  One possible reason for this decline of women’s status after the war is a return to normalcy.  Large numbers of men returned from fighting to take over their previous positions in politics and industry, pushing women back into the home.  It is also very likely that women’s status began to decrease after the war due to the shift to a market economy.  Some of the government’s focus that was previously given to promoting equal gender rights was now redirected toward developing the economy.  This allowed for some return of the pre-socialist Confucian ideals which hold to the inferiority of women, again limiting their economic and political options.  So although Vietnamese women experienced an upturn during the war, while the status of their Cambodian contemporaries suffered, they are now both at a similar level, facing the same kinds of problems as a result of the prolonged conflicts.

            Although the mobilization of male labor has ended with the fighting, a shortage of the male population is still a lingering effect of the wars.  Large numbers of men in their prime were killed in the fighting and consequently today the females of these nations greatly outnumber the men.  In Cambodia women comprise almost 60% of the total population, 60% of adults over 35 and 54% of adults over 18 years old.  Over 70% of workers in agriculture, factories and small businesses, those jobs which form the local base of the national economy, are women.  However, only 10% of those women in factory jobs hold skilled positions, and women are still a minority in the government sector, only 35% of civil servants are women.  In the 120 member national congress of Cambodia there are only 5 women, none of whom head any of the 18 bureaus.  The figures are worst for those women over 30, who lived through the most of the conflicts.  For these women literacy is estimated at only 50% and this figure drops to about 20% in rural areas.[iii]  The lack of resources over the last few decades has decimated the health and education systems in Cambodia.  The World Health Organization is currently working with the government to improve the health situation, but there is no evidence to indicate that the government is putting as much effort into the education system.  The recent UN Human Development report indicated that women in Cambodia are likely to receive only 1.7 years of education.  Only about 19% of upper high school students are female.  There seem to be no programs aimed directly at increasing the enrollment of girls in school.    Older women were hampered in their education due to the direct presence of the war, but current figures indicate that there may be little improvement over the next generation.  This lack of education is a major factor that hampers the upward mobility of women in the work force, so although Cambodian women comprise about 65-70% of the work force, they are over represented in low paying, unsecured jobs.

            In Vietnam women make up about 51.5% of the total population, and 52.8% of those 20 to 39.  Over the course of the 80’s the educational outlook for Vietnamese women was far better than that in Cambodia, for that decade females composed 48 percent of primary, 47 percent of secondary and 41 percent of tertiary students.  The implementation of Doi Moi in 1986 however instituted a school fee, where previously the government provided free schooling and encouraged the education of girls.  This new school fee may possibly cause a drop in the education of girls as parents are increasingly unable to provide for the education of all their children.  This, coupled with a rise in female headed households and poor single mothers who themselves have limited job opportunities does not bode well for the economic future of the next generation of girls.  If the education level of women in Vietnam drops they will find it harder to find jobs and their involvement in politics may continue to drop.

            During the 80’s Vietnam sent many of its resources, including men, to the occupation of Cambodia.  Consequently, those women aged 20 to 39 would have at that time been ready to but unable to marry.  They now comprise a large portion of the population that are single, unmarrieable females in a country where marriage is expected and valued and children are needed to take care of them in old age and carry on the family name.  There has most recently been a rise in children born out of wedlock to single mothers, and because many women feel they need to have a son they often have two or more children.  While 10 years ago these women would have been shunned, the government has become increasingly more tolerant.  In Vietnam’s forestry service, more than two thirds of the 52,000 workers are female and 28 percent of them are single, the forestry service now provides equal benefits and maternity leave for single mothers.  But, these women must still work harder and longer hours to support a family on their own. 

            Both nations are experiencing a phenomenon known as a ‘marriage squeeze’.  This occurs when the gender of any population greatly outnumbers the other, and results in a drop in status of that gender which exists in ‘surplus’.  In the case of Vietnam and Cambodia it is the status of women that is hurt.  This situation is especially hard when it occurs in such cultures that value marriage at a young age.  As a result of the ‘marriage squeeze’ women are more likely to enter into and stay in an undesirable or abusive marriage.  There is essentially no chance of remarriage should a marriage be disrupted.  As was mentioned above there is an increase in the number of children born out of wedlock.  The last two factors combine to greatly increase the number of female headed households.  In Vietnam there are twice as many women aged 35-44 as men, and there are five times as many widows as widowers.  In Cambodia the portion of households headed by females is around 35 percent.  With a fertility rate of 4.5 births per women, Cambodian mothers must work extremely long and hard hours that are detrimental to their health simply to provide the necessities for their families.  Women in Vietnam are in the same predicament, it is hard enough to provide adequate nutrition and shelter for their children without considering their education.  When education is available it may often be feasible for one child, which will most often be the boy child, the one responsible for carrying on the family name and the one who will better be able to provide for his parent or parents in their old age.

            The economic status of women in Vietnam has been affected by the nation’s shift to a market economy, by being pushed into low level, low paying, non-managerial positions, and the women of Cambodia are facing similar issues as their nation joins the global economy.  As is typical of any developing economy, programs tend to be aimed at developing those areas of the economy that are dominated by men, such as public service.  The women in Cambodia dominate in those areas of the economy that receive the least benefit from globalization and large foreign investing.  Women dominate in the informal economic sector, in small trade, and small to medium sized businesses.  The women in both Vietnam and Cambodia make up the majority of those in factories, working as cheap wage and sub-contract labor.  In the event of an economic crisis such as one that just hit Southeast Asia, it is the exploited factory workers that are considered most expendable, and are the first to lose their jobs.  The small and medium sized businesses are also some of the hardest hit. Many thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have experienced sudden bankruptcies due to high interest rates, currency devaluation and credit squeeze.  Women in Cambodia are hampered from entering higher status jobs, or from increasing their income from personal enterprises by lack of education and illiteracy, lack of vocational training and lack of capital.  There have been many large independent credit organizations popping up recently.  Many of these organizations, particularly in Vietnam, often have and urban bias as well as a preference for large and well-secured loans to the disadvantage of small savers and borrowers.  This also includes a bias for male-headed households, which may have higher and more secure incomes. This has, in turn, led to the emergence of a large and dynamic informal credit market charging higher interest rates to those charged by official institutions.[iv]  There have been several agencies established to provide capital to poor women, but they still lack adequate access to capital.

            For rural women the situation is even worse, with the decollectivization of labor the only option for women is increasingly to marry and take care of the home and family.  With the low rates of marrieable men women must often migrate to more urban areas to find jobs.  Women in Cambodia and Vietnam are facing a poor job market, where any wage labor work they may find is extremely low level and insecure.  They lack any adequate training, education or capital that may allow for successful personal enterprise.  Young girls may be seen as a burden on their family and may feel obligated help their family financially.  All of these factors combine to make women extremely vulnerable to exploitation by brothels and traffickers in women.  Women in rural areas are often approached by recruiters for the sex industry, they are either convinced there is a legit job waiting for them in the city, or even another country, or, given their lack of other options, they willingly go with the recruiter to work in a brothel.  The parents of young girls are often approached by recruiters, and many sell their daughters to them, it being perceived as the only way the daughter may fulfill her obligation to the family, or because there are simply not the resources to keep supporting her.  Daughters are also often sold to the brothels directly.  Many women opt to enter into prostitution, as they believe they will earn more than at any other occupation.  There are also many young girls who are forcibly taken from their families and sold into debt bondage to brothels.  Cambodian and Vietnamese women are prime targets for exploitation due to their lack of education and other viable job options.  They are often lured by deceptive job offers, or phony group travel deals.  

            Many women believe working as a prostitute will increase their income.  In actuality prostitutes are taken advantage of by pimps and brothel owners so that they never see most of their income.  Many women sold to brothels must work off their debt to the owners, but the exorbitant amounts claimed by the brothel take years to eliminate.  Often one brothel will sell a girl to another brothel just before her debt is paid off so that she has to start from zero again.  Should a girl manage to pay it off, she is often so entrenched in the industry that she has no other option but to stay.  Increasingly, in the years it takes a woman to work out of debt bondage, she has already contracted HIV, whereupon she is usually sent home to die.  Many women are taken across borders, many Vietnamese women are trafficked into Cambodia, where they are further limited by their inability to speak the language or to find recompense in the local law.  With the rise in prevalence of STD’s there is an increase in demand for younger girls, who are believed to be healthier.  To supply these young girls traffickers are increasing the use of deceptive methods to recruit girls.  The current average age of prostitutes in Vietnam and Cambodia is

about 14 years.

            Prostitution has had a long history in the Southeast Asian region.  The development of prostitution can be traced to pre-colonial times when there was an influx of European and Chinese traders into the region.  Early on, European traders would enter into the respected arrangement of a temporary marriage, but the position of a temporary wife became increasingly less high status.  Chinese traders opted for the more convenient option of buying a slave or concubine, Europeans soon followed suit.  The demand for these women increased and the region became known to westerners as a place where women were immoral and sex could easily be bought.  The current magnitude of the sex industry can be mostly attributed to the war era.  As was mentioned earlier, the industry grew up around foreign military bases.  The countries came to rely on the revenue earned from foreign soldiers and after the war encouraged tourism to fill the gap left by withdrawing troops. Tourism in the region continued to grow, along with it the sex trade. Cambodia more recently experienced the same phenomenon with the presence of the UN transitional authority on Cambodia. With the presence of UNTAC and its accompanying troops, the number of prostitutes in Phnom Penh jumped to over 20,000.  Although this number was cut in half when UNTAC left in ‘93, the average age of the prostitutes also dropped, so the majority left were under 18.  There was also a rise in abduction or deception for sale to brothels.  An estimated 68 percent were sold to brothels.  The industry is only fueled by the rise in capitalist and consumerist ideals in Cambodia and Vietnam and the accompanying tendency to commodify everything, especially sex.  Today these countries often claim that it is foreign demand that supports prostitution, but there is an increasing demand among local men as well.  By one account, more than half the men in southern Vietnam buy the services of a prostitute at least

once a day.

            Both Vietnam and Cambodia have laws making prostitution illegal, as well as laws specifically to protect minors, but both nations lack the resources to enforce these laws.  Often local law enforcement is corrupt, providing protection for brothels.  There is also a passive and implicit support of the governments for the industry due to the revenues it draws in.  Recently the governments have become more active in addressing the issue, but this is less out of a concern for women’s welfare than out of a concern for the rise in AIDS and other diseases.  Both nations are party to the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The Convention calls for the decriminalization of the prostitute, and the consideration of sexual slavery and trafficking as a human rights issue. There is a big gap between the words on paper and actual practice.  Both countries lack the proper resources or motivation to enforce CEDAW’s provisions.

            There have been many conventions and declarations addressing the issue of the exploitation of women.  Besides CEDAW, there is the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for action’, which calls for a promotion of the status of women internationally.  The declaration contains many of the same points as CEDAW, calling for a consideration of the issue as a human rights problem, stressing that exploited and trafficked women need more protection by the law, the decriminalization of the prostitute and harsher penalties for those who traffick or use the services of a prostitute.  The primary responsibility for implementing the declaration though, rests with the governments, so there has been extremely little implementation in Vietnam or Cambodia.

            There is also the Coalition to end Trafficking in Women (CATW).  CATW- Asia/pacific is an “international network of feminist groups and agencies that aims to better coordinate information and responses to trafficking of Asian women, and to address the issues with a stronger and united voice.  CATW has worked in conjunction with UNESCO to develop the Proposed Draft Convention Against Sexual Exploitation that has been presented to the United Nations.”[v]

CATW also works to educate through various media, including the internet, on the issue of trafficked and exploited women.  Much like the Beijing Platform though, there is nothing in place to ensure cooperation of or implementation by the governments.  These declarations have however, been successful in establishing guidelines by which laws may be made, and some pressure has been exerted on these countries to improve the laws.  With the lack of resources and the corruption at local levels though, even the good intentions of the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments may not translate into implementation.

            There are some local NGO’s working toward the improved status of women in these nations.  These agencies appear to be fairly successful in their goals, particularly those involving micro-credit schemes.  These are mostly grass-roots agencies, many are run by or established by local women themselves.  They tend to be fairly small in scale, having been only recently established.

            Khemara was the first local NGO established in Cambodia, in the early 1990’s for the advancement of women.  Khemara is a grass roots organization founded and run by women.  Khemara’s executive director is Ms. Sochua Mu Leiper, special advisor in women’s affairs to the prime minister.  The programs focus primarily on skills and leadership development.  Khemara is currently running several projects.  One such project is Women in Business.  This project selects women in the villages surrounding Phnom Penh to attend skills development training. After a training which takes from 3 to 9 months, the women obtain credit to found a business. Training and technical support to the women continue throughout.  The types of training the women receive includes: weaving, crafts, retail business training, restaurant business, food processing, printing, computer training and office management. The program involves over 300 women.  This project also includes Khemara House, a retail outlet where staff are trained in running a retail outlet and are prepared for setting up and running their own small scale business in Phnom Penh. Khemara staff train the women and are in turn trained by outside consultants. The goal of Women in Business is to ensure the economic and social empowerment of women.[vi] This project seems to be successful in helping the women involved in the program, although the project is still fairly new and localized around the Phnom Penh area.  Khemara also runs a literacy project in which village volunteers are trained in literacy and numeracy.  These volunteers in turn teach village women basic literacy skills.  Teenagers and high school graduates are trained to manage mobile libraries.  The project reports to have reached about two hundred women in the last two years.  One of the major successes of Khemara occurred early on with the first national elections.  Khemara worked to implement the plan of UNIFEM, with support from UNTAC and UNDP to raise awareness of women’s issues among other NGO’s and the government.  The project also worked to increase the involvement of women in the political process.  Khemara ran a series of discussions and open dialogues culminating in a 3 day national summit to establish what issues where important to women.  Women were trained to be able to propose suggestions to the government.  During the election voter turnout was at about 90 percent and at one polling station, the percentage of women was at 60.  After the election information gained from dialogue with local women was compiled into a proposal for the government.  Consequently the new constitution included four clauses providing for the equal rights of women, including equal pay for equal work.  This short term program was successful in its immediate goals, though work must remain constant to maintain women’s involvement in politics.  This project also incited the development of other small feminist organizations for which data is not available.

            While Khemara works for women in Cambodia, the primary organization in Vietnam is the Vietnam Women’s Union.  The VWU was established by the socialist government as loyal opposition.  VWU has worked for the equal rights of women and is the primary voice of women in Vietnam, with about 11,000 members.  Because VWU has ties to the government it must still support the government even if it appears that certain policies are not beneficial to women.  This position does however give the VWU an easier position to work from in dealing with the national assembly.  Privatization and liberalization in Vietnam has reduced state control in various socioeconomic sectors. This threatens to weaken the role of the Vietnam Women’s Union, and thus also weaken the voice of Vietnam’s women. UNIFEM, with UNDP Hanoi, is working with the members of the Union to strengthen its capacity to identify and address emerging women's issues and gender concerns. There has been some past criticism of the Union, claims that it served to remove women from mainstream politics, but the VWU has long been the primary or only political voice of women in Vietnam.  The VWU has five main programs to increase the status of women, through education in matters of health and family planning, as well as education on production and business development.  Over 920,000 Union staff have been trained and retrained to build a stronger union at the grassroots and to mobilize women for successful implementation of the Union’s tasks.  The Union also promotes the research and mobilization of women to participate in drafting new laws and policies.  The WU also participates in drafting new laws relating to women.  No information was found on whether the VWU continually evaluates the success of its programs, although the Union does support continued research into women’s issues.  The VWU has also prompted the establishment of other unions in various work sectors.

            The VWU has worked in conjunction with CIDSE, a group of 13 Catholic development organizations, on a credit scheme for poor women.  CIDSE has established 8 guidelines including a clear targeting of poor women, appropriately small loans and low interest rates, continued technical support and a built in savings component to mobilize local capital.  The scheme has been modeled on the successful Grameen Bank program.  CIDSE has also established guidelines for evaluating the success of the program.  Results are measured in terms of direct benefits for the individuals involved as well as indirect benefits involving the health, nutritional and educational status of the individual and their family members.  The program is still fairly recent, results of any evaluation are not yet available, but some of the direct results include an access to income generating activities which have not only helped job creation but stabilized or expanded income earning opportunities among the poor.  So far the programme has assisted over 6,700 participants in 32 areas; has loaned 2,534 million VD (USD 253,400) and, most importantly of all, has achieved a repayment rate of 95%.  Although CIDSE is primarily run by outsiders, it works in conjunction with local women’s unions.  It also works to promote solidarity among unions, their members and their families.

            A similar credit scheme can be found in Cambodia, with ACLEDA (association of Cambodian local economic development agencies)  ACLEDA was formed under an action by the UNDP.  ACLEDA provides micro loans and small business loans.  Since its establishment in 1993 it has provided nearly 4 million USD in loans.  Over 90 percent of their clients are women.  The recovery rate on loans is 98 percent for micro loans and 96 percent for small business loans.  There was no information on whether technical support or training is provided.  ACLEDA is run by a series of committees on several levels.  Loans are approved at the branch level by a local credit committee, so those people who would be receiving loans are not likely to be involved in developing policy.  Unlike CIDSE, which provided for improving social status by accompanying policies to increase solidarity, ACLEDA appears to be primarily economic based.  The figures are however still very promising.  Impact studies show that every small business loan of $500 creates a job and micro business loans tend to increase daily profits an average of 60 percent.

            A smaller credit scheme is being run in Cambodia by the Cambodian Women’s association in conjunction with UNICEF.  The founding of the Cambodian Women’s Association was fueled by Khemara.  Another offshoot of CWA is the Cambodian women’s crisis center, which provides shelter to battered women and works for their empowerment through education, as well as providing legal services.  The CWA provides education for women through the distribution of booklets to rural villages.  The CWA worked with women who were provided loans from UNICEF to help identify suitable projects, do surveys and prepare proposals.  About 10,000 women so far have received loans averaging US$50.  Over half of the loans are for agricultural activities.

            There are no programs or organizations in Cambodia which specifically address the issue

 trafficking or exploitation of women.  Many of the current programs indirectly address this issue by working toward the empowerment and improved economic status of women, which in turn decreases their vulnerability to exploitation.  Those active programs which work directly with the women, providing technical training and capital are the most successful in their immediate goals.  Figures from local credit schemes are also promising.  While these agencies work to increase the political involvement of women, those laws that are passed for the benefit of women tend to be hollow victories, since the government is often unable to put such laws into practice.  One of the primary hindrances in the advancement of the women’s cause in Vietnam and Cambodia is the limitations of the government.  The nations are attempting to rebuild both politically and economically and women’s issues will often take a backseat to improving the economy.  Declarations and conventions exhorting the governments to change often do little good in the face of lack of funds and local corruption.  International aid packages carrying with them structural adjustment programs will likely only prove injurious to the status of women, as these programs often tend to bypass women working in the informal economy and drain funds from already precarious health care and education.

            The women in these nations seem enthusiastic about becoming involved and improving their situation, in the future the current programs which are working on very small scales may be able to make a dent in the situation.  Those women who are being exploited though, are still cut off from the process.  They are not in a position to receive help from these programs that primarily target more rural populations.  Local law corruption also prevents their aid.  Hopefully a continued addressal of the issue will eventually bring about change, but currently the process is working much slower than the health problems like HIV are spreading.

            Many of the organizations in these nations are young, with the exception of the VWU.  Every year the current organizations spawn the growth of other NGO’s which will hopefully only increase in size.  With the inability of the governments to enforce their policies of equality, it is up to NGO’s to promote the status of women.  They must work at the grass roots level to educate and provide training for women to increase their job options.  One of the major problems contributing to the low status of women, the shortage of men, will eventually work itself out.  Work must continue to improve the figures for girls' education, which will in turn benefit other problem areas such as fertility, vulnerability and economic mobility.


[i] Administrative Divisions of Cambodia, Russell R. Ross,  Andrea Matles Savada

                (a href="/frd/cs/cambodia/kh_appnb.html">Appendix B<),

 

[ii]  Rising gender inequality in Vietnam since reunification,  Daniel Goodkind Pacific Affairs v68 p344

 

[iii] Figures for Cambodia from Reconstructing the fabric of women’s lives by Sochua Mu Leiper, Connexions

                summer 1994 n46 p29 and WIN News  summer 1994 v20 n3 p 61

 

[iv] Poverty, Credit and CIDSE,  http://cidse. . /html/cidse-~1.html/

 

[v] Coalition against trafficking in women-Asia Pacific ../interntl.catw/html/

 

[vi] /khmera.html/khemara_house/women_in_business/html/