By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
A bicycle rally to mark International Women’s Day was thwarted by police in Cambodia on Tuesday, a day after the United Nations urged governments around the world to focus on empowering women.
Rights group Licadho said in a statement that about 200 unionists, factory workers and rights activists gathered in front of the Women’s Ministry, from where they intended to set off on a single-file 9-kilometer bike ride, ending at the National Assembly.
“The rally was intended to celebrate economic, social and political achievements of women in the country but also call for further action by the government to eliminate disparity in the recognition and enforcement of women’s rights throughout the country,” Licadho said.
However, as the convoy prepared to leave, “they were met nearly immediately by approximately 60 mixed security forces who blocked the road in both directions, creating a large traffic jam”.
Women’s ministry spokeswomen Sy Define could not be reached Tuesday.
The disruption came after the UN committee tasked with assessing member countries’ treatment of women used International Women’s Day to urge governments to put more of a focus on the needs of women in rural areas.
A UN statement, which was released in Geneva on Monday, said rural women are particularly vulnerable when it comes to discrimination, access to justice and education, domestic violence and land grabs.
In Cambodia, "it’s still a very heavy patriarchy” Ros Sopheap, executive director of the Gender and Development Cambodia NGO, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday
She underlined that women in rural areas are often the victims of stereotyping.
“They know about gender equality, but do not know the details like how that can reflect into a real situation," she said.
“For example, if somebody rapes a girl, the parents know this is illegal, but they do not know how they can ensure that their rights have to be protected."
She underlines that many women don’t know how to pursue their rights, because for many rural poor the mind set and stereotype of the culture is to keep quiet.
"They have difficulty accessing justice in Cambodia, because people working in this area are stereotyping too.”
In Cambodia, women make up the majority of the workforce in its $5.7-billion garment manufacturing industry, where they earn just $128 per month making products for major brands such as Gap, Adidas, Zara and H&M.
Thousands of others have also gone abroad to work predominantly as domestic helpers in countries like Malaysia -- where stories of abuse and even death drew Cambodia to put a moratorium on sending maids there -- from where they send most of their salaries home to their families.
Sopheap said that with better education, women could make an even greater contribution to the economy in a more diverse range of jobs.
“If you look at their education, it’s still very low. But they bring money for Cambodia. The government must be accountable to them and that relates to education. If they are educated or learn, they might bring more money. They will also be able to claim their rights,” she said.
In Cambodia’s most recent assessment in 2013, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women said it needed to introduce anti-discrimination legislation, protect migrant workers and ensure access to justice for all women.