Going Public: Using Facebook to Raise the Voice of Cambodia’s Women in Business
March 3, 2010
Never short of innovative ideas and certainly not lacking entrepreneurship, Cambodian businesswomen have now created a Facebook page to network and exchange tips and ideas about doing business in the Kingdom.
More than 200 businesswomen, professionals, students, academics, and even male supporters, have already joined the group to share economic, social, and cultural challenges faced by women when starting or managing a business or when pursuing a career in Cambodia.
Even though Cambodian women have always played an important role in the economy and make up half of the economically active population, the long-standing prejudice that the Khmer woman is shy and docile, and mainly focused on her domestic house chores remains alive. With a labor force participation rate of 71 percent, high by regional standards, Cambodian women are active workers and also exhibit strong entrepreneurial ability. The Provincial Business Environment Scorecard (PBES), a measure of economic governance, conducted by The Asia Foundation and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in 2008-2009, shows that 62 percent of the 63,507 listed enterprises are owned by women. Although the majority of women-owned businesses are mostly micro and small, and mainly in retail and service industries, women are becoming increasingly present in manufacturing, construction industries, and food-processing, as well.
However, despite their essential role in the social and economic life of Cambodia, women here often complain about the challenges they face in doing business. Aside from the same problems as their male counterparts (lack of information, lack of access to finance, burdensome and often non-transparent business environments, lack of reliable commercial dispute resolution systems, etc.) women business owners face the additional difficulty of lacking social networks and connections that could help them overcome such challenges. According to a study conducted by Cambodian researcher Ms. Makararavy Ty on women entrepreneur development in small and medium enterprises in Cambodia, the lack of external support and networking opportunities is one of the main challenges faced by Cambodian businesswomen. The study, based on in-depth interviews of 61 women entrepreneurs in the capital city of Phnom Penh, highlights challenges specific to women, such as balancing work with family responsibilities (mentioned as a problem by more than 47 percent of the respondents) and mobility restrictions.
Women also face continuing under-representation in both private and public institutions aimed at supporting private sector development. As International Finance Corporation’s (IFC’s) Lili Sisombat explains, women are very rarely represented in business associations or Chambers of Commerce and do not participate to their full capacity in venues such as the Government-Private Sector Forum where the private sector has a chance to express business concerns to the highest levels of government. “I have been facilitating discussions between Cambodia’s private and public sectors for the last few years and have been constantly concerned about the small number – about 10 percent – of businesswomen participating,” she says. Such low participation rates not only prevent women from voicing their specific concerns but also from accessing useful business information or influencing business environments. It is precisely to overcome this lack of voice that Women in Business in Cambodia created the platform on Facebook.
Issues discussed on their page include business information and cultural constraints, but, more importantly, this group intends to provide a positive image of Cambodian women, focusing on successes and celebrating Cambodian women’s achievements. For example, a recent post acknowledged Kanika Linden and her mom Long Sorey for winning the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for their Cambodian cookbook Au pays de la Pomme Cythère.
Not surprisingly, most of the Facebook participants are young (25 to 35) and well educated. One might argue that these economically and socially active women represent a very small percentage of the women population, certainly not the country’s most vulnerable who have little or no access to the Internet. This is true. However, it’s possible that the voices of these few hundred women represent hundreds of thousands of silent voices across the country. This is an emerging generation of Cambodian women entrepreneurs and professionals who are aware of their potential and are keen to raise their voice, be recognized, and fully participate in the social and economic development of their country.
Véronique Salze-Lozac’h is The Asia Foundation’s Regional Director for Economic Programs in Cambodia. She can be reached at VSalze-Lozach@asiafound.org.
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