Mekong Institute (MI) organized a research forum entitled the “Third Multi-Stakeholder Forum: Research Dissemination and Validation” at Sofitel Hotel in Phnom Penh on 15th July 2022. This was a research dissemination forum as part of a three-year Women in Trade Knowledge Platform research project.
The exclusive event was attended by approximately 20 representatives from key private and public sector organizations, such as business associations, export promoting agencies, policy makers, trade policy research institutions, and women-led exporting companies in Cambodia. The forum aimed to validate the research’s key findings and analysis;seek feedback and inputs from the stakeholders on the data and information gathered; and ensure the policy recommendations are understood and relevant to the key stakeholders, including the policy-makers, practitioners, women-led exporting businesses, and development actors.
H.E. Ms. Mam Dathalineth, the Vice President of the Cambodia Women Enterprise Association (CWEA) highlighted the importance of engaging more women to participate in community activities and leadership roles in her opening remarks. She expressed, “I strongly believe that having a localized approach to workshops will make the ecosystem more sustainable, be it strengthening our local trainers to train the women entrepreneurs on exporting or practical guidelines on how to meet international standards and market requirements in order to transform our challenges into opportunities”. CWEA is one of the important partners of the Mekong Institute in Cambodia.
During her special remarks, H.E. Ms. CHEA Ratha, Department of SMEs Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation (MISTI), also emphasized the importance of gender inclusion in the digital economy for women and girls in order for them to participate in global trade and to take advantage of the booming e-commerce industry. Her Excellency concluded her remarks with, “this project is very timely. MISTI has recently launched several strategic roadmaps and we are looking forward to fruitful collaborations and development projects to strengthen women in trade through science, technology, and innovation (STI).”
Following the opening remarks of the two guests of honor, Mr. Madhuryjya K. Dutta, the Director of TIF at Mekong Institute, shared the project overview, including the goal of the research project, which is “to establish a knowledge platform that will serve as a tool to fill important gaps related to the collection, storage, and analysis of gender-disaggregated sector-specific trade and employment data”. He explained that the research explored in-depth insights into gender equality in trade sectors with a focus on improving women’s economic empowerment through job creation and contributing to sustainable and inclusive growth in Vietnam and Cambodia”.
Dr. Teddy Y. Samy, Director/Professor at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), Carleton University, presented the key findings from the MSMEs survey conducted in 2021. He observed that “the survey results were helpful because they allowed us to go behind the numbers – whether significant or not – to find out more about the reasons behind them. To put it bluntly, even if the expected response was lower for a question, it was important for us to know what was driving it”. Some of the survey’s findings include:
- Women-owned exporting SMEs tend to hire more women than men and the overall distribution of employees is more favorable to women in Cambodia;
- 20 percent of all SMEs surveyed mentioned that women-led SMEs encounter more difficulties in trade but here again, there is more variation across countries. In the case of Cambodia, 22 percent is not an insignificant number. Gender is seen to be less of a constraint for exporting than other constraints in the case of Cambodia;
- The average salaries of both male and female workers are higher in exporting SMEs vs. non-exporting ones. A higher proportion of exporting SMEs provide benefits to their employees compared to non-exporting SMEs. Among exporting SMEs, an overwhelming majority of all respondents (almost 90%) report that employees receive the same benefits.
Cambodia’s country case study key findings were shared by Ms. Jasmine Lal Fakmawii, Program Coordinator of Trade and Investment Facilitation Department at Mekong Institute. She stated, “our research indicates that the majority of women-owned businesses stay at micro or small level where they are saturated in the same few industries and same markets for export. Further to that, women employees are also crowded in the low-value added textiles and garment industries that come with low-skill and low-paying jobs. There is a need for diversification in terms of job markets, business types, and target markets for women and girls in export”.The policy recommendations for Cambodia to address both the opportunities and challenges of women in export include:
- Integration of women empowerment strategies and legal incentives for women-led exporting businesses in trade-related national policies as well as free trade agreements to ensure women benefit equally from the trade opportunities created.
- Encouraging financial institutions to deliberately target women exporters as a market segment and serve the types of financial products designed to meet the specific needs of women entrepreneurs for export.
- Access to industry-specific market information through a localized one-stop trade portal that include information related to potential buyers, target country market’s specific demand, export-related policies, and certification requirements of importing countries.
- Sector-specific peer-support networking groups where exporting women from the same industries can connect, seek synergies, share trade/market information, and have a collective voice for policy advocacies.
- Vocational skills training deliberately designed for increasing women’s labor force participation in male-dominated industries that offer high-skilled and high-paying jobs such as STEM-related industries. Moreover, workers also emphasize the need to readjust of the minimum pay policy for export-oriented factories and to improve working conditions for women by enforcing amended rules and regulations.
Following the two presentations, the participants provided comments, questions, and suggestions that will be incorporate into the report finalizing process. The participants also suggested to include the perspectives of women employees at women-led exporting firms outside special economic zones in order to ensure the findings are prevalent across the country as well as the representativeness of the sample pool. In August, the research team will organize a similar forum in Ho Chi Minh City targeting participants from Vietnam. The final consolidated research report is intended to publish by the end of 2022.
WIT Knowledge Platform research project is led by the Trade Facilitation Office (TFO) Canada with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. MI is the regional implementing partner in Asia, focusing on Cambodia and Vietnam. The Center for the Study of the Economies of Africa, Nigeria is studying the four African countries of Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Senegal.