UN: Investing in Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders is Smart Economics

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer (left) with H.E. Dr. Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce of Cambodia and the 2012 ASEAN Economic Ministers Chairman. 21 August 2012.

“Investing in women’s entrepreneurial leadership, and the empowerment of women, is smart economics - which is why women’s empowerment is one of the most important development priorities for the countries of Asia and the Pacific,” said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), addressing senior Cambodian policy-makers and women business leaders here today, as part of an official visit to the country.

The Under-Secretary-General met with the Royal Cambodian Government’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, and later joined the Minister on a visit to a local women-owned and operated silk business, speaking with women workers and entrepreneurial leaders from the newly-formed Cambodian Women’s Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA).

“I am deeply impressed by the renewed focus in Cambodia on women’s economic empowerment,” said Dr. Heyzer. “Initiatives that help women to move up the business value chain also help to ensure that other issues affecting women, like health and education, are given greater priority.”

Speaking about the impact of global financial crises on the country, Dr. Heyzer added: “The Cambodian experience holds a number of important lessons for the developing economies of our region. Despite a decade of exceptional economic growth, averaging more than 9% annually, levels of inequality in Cambodia have continued to rise.”

“Reduced demand for garment exports to the markets of the United States and Europe, for instance, have led to the loss of more than 70,000 jobs, underlining the need for both economic diversification and skills training for women, who make up 90% of the employees in this sector.”

Although more than 80% of women and girls over the age of 15 participate in the Cambodian workforce, 82% of these jobs are in the informal sector, and women earn only about 70% of men’s wages. It has been estimated by ESCAP that limits on women’s economic participation costs the region, as a whole, nearly US$90 billion each year in lost productivity.

Briefing the Under-Secretary-General on the Cambodian Government’s plans to overcome barriers to women accessing the formal labor market, Minister Phavi said: “Building capacity for women in entrepreneurial and business skills is needed to support full inclusion of women in the formal economic sector, protecting their economic rights and generating higher income levels. All economic progress is undermined when the potential of thousands of women remains untapped.”

Dr. Heyzer commended Cambodia’s recent successes in improving primary and secondary school enrollment rates for girls. She also highlighted improvements in school completion and literacy rates for Cambodian girls, as a result of Government assistance with transportation, scholarships, accommodation and training. “The gender gap is being reduced through better access for girls to education – and more must be done especially at tertiary level.” Cambodia has also more than doubled the percentage of women in the National Parliament since 1990 – to 20.3% this year.

As part of her official visit to Cambodia, the Under-Secretary-General also held talks with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers and a number of senior Cabinet Ministers on issues ranging from regional economic integration, to energy security, and improving regional trade links.