LINES OF THOUGHT ACROSS SOUTHEAST ASIA

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Cambodia: Women in business

By Sacha Passi While females in executive positions region-wide are blazing a trail for businesswomen globally, the entrepreneurial spirit is also alive and well amongst women in Cambodia – albeit on a smaller scale. “Women are the backbone of Cambodia’s economy,” says Seng Takakneary, president of the Cambodia Women…

Sacha Passi
May 12, 2013

By Sacha Passi
While females in executive positions region-wide are blazing a trail for businesswomen globally, the entrepreneurial spirit is also alive and well amongst women in Cambodia – albeit on a smaller scale. “Women are the backbone of Cambodia’s economy,” says Seng Takakneary, president of the Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA), and managing director of Sentosa Silk, a silk-clothing producer based in Cambodia.
In 2011, the first economic census conducted in the Kingdom revealed the extent to which women were supporting Cambodia’s economy. The census, a collaboration between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Royal Government of Cambodia not only showed the number of businesses increased by more than a third between January 2009 and March 2011, but it also revealed that of the total 505,134 businesses throughout Cambodia, nearly two-thirds, or just over 329,000, were headed by women. Notably, however, 80% of the total number of businesses were also micro businesses, with two employees or less.
“It is still very much a man’s society so it is hard for a woman to do business in Cambodia, but they will have to get used to it,” says 30 year-old Phally Chim, General Manager of Eak Ngoun Oxygen and Acetylene, Cambodia’s only local supplier and exporter of manufactured oxygen. “That is something I’ve learnt from my parents. It is not like in Western society, where businesswomen stand alone. We are strong but we stand with family, always. But in many cases men do business outside of the family home, while women control the business from inside the home.”
In Cambodia, it is estimated that of the 1.67 million workers included in the aforementioned 2011 economic census, more than one million are females. However, despite women dominating Cambodia’s workforce, particularly in areas such as textiles, handicrafts, food and education, the country’s rank at 175 out of 185 economies in the Doing Business 2013: smarter regulations for small and medium size enterprises – an annual report by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – shows the extent to which the economic regulatory environment for business in Cambodia is hindering further entrepreneurial growth.
Combine the cultural challenges faced by women in Cambodia with an environment where completing licensing requirements are tedious, the enforcement of many aspects of the labour codes are not effective, inconsistent judicial rulings and corruption are common, and there is widespread infringement of intellectual property rights – and businesswomen in Cambodia are facing an uphill battle.
“The majority of CWEA’s members are running small to medium enterprises, and women still need time to look after the household,” Takakneary says. “Women from my generation lack education and that is why we cannot start big business. We start small but we don’t know how to do the accounting, the marketing, or to how to make a business plan. Without that kind of knowledge you cannot encourage yourself to grow the business. The other important thing is ownership. This allows women to make mistakes, and learn.”
Although Cambodia is not without females who hold executive positions in multi-million dollar conglomerates (Takakneary names Chhun Leang, president and co-founder of Vattanac Bank, a corporation with nearly $764m in total assets, as one of her role models) they are in the minority. Strengthening the local business regulatory environment should not only assist Cambodia in its aim for annual economic growth to surpass 7% in the coming years, but also help push businesswomen in the Kingdom forward at a pace that could see them catch up with their regional counterparts.
“At the moment we rely on the networks we make through other women to conduct business. But through power and knowledge I think that the trend in the next 10 years will see us have equal respect in business,” says Phally. “I look forward to a day when we can go into a meeting and receive the same treatment as a man.”
 
 
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