MANILA, PHILIPPINES (14 July 2017) — Financial resources and personnel trained in gender issues are critical to tap the economic potential of women and close sizable gender equality gaps, says an evaluation of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) support for gender and development in the country by the ADB Independent Evaluation Department.
“ADB and other development partners need to be more engaged with the government in policy dialogue on gender equality, which, despite progress, remains among Cambodia’s most pressing development challenges,” says Véronique Salze-Lozac’h, Deputy Director General of Independent Evaluation. “Support to capacity development at all levels of government to promote gender equality would help the country advance its objective of inclusive growth.”
The evaluation notes that the government’s commitment to gender equality appears strong, and official policy stresses inclusive growth with a gender equality component. Cambodia has an extensive administrative structure to pursue its gender equality goals, which includes a separate Ministry for Women’s Affairs and a high-level council for women, chaired by the Prime Minister, “but the capacity to operate this impressive structure is limited,” says the evaluation.
A key recommendation of the evaluation is that ADB — one of Cambodia’s largest donors — should be more involved in helping the government to implement and monitor its gender equality initiatives, and help build the expertise of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which operates on a small budget. “Without strong partners within the government, there will always be a limit on what ADB project lending can achieve in this area,” says the evaluation.
The evaluation reviews ADB’s support for promoting gender equality in its Cambodia operations during 2005-2015. ADB’s loan and grant portfolio for the country totaled $1.4 billion in the period. Its operations focused on urban water supply and sanitation, education, and agriculture and natural resources, which included irrigation projects. The evaluation also assesses the state of gender equality in Cambodia, and highlights the constraints to increasing the economic empowerment of women and closing other important gender gaps.
“Cambodia’s enjoyed fast economic growth of about 6% a year from 2005 to 2015, and employment has been rising rapidly by the standards of Asia and the Pacific, which has brought substantial gains in some areas for women,” says Hyun Son, the evaluation report’s main author.
These include a marked growth in female employment in Cambodia’s garments industry from increased foreign and domestic investment in the sector. In health, maternal mortality per 100,000 live births more than halved from 315 in 2005 to 161 in 2015, although this remains high. In education, the completion rate in secondary schools is higher for girls, at 48.8% compared with 47.2% for boys.
“Significant gender gaps remain in tertiary education, especially in technical and vocational training; and the political representation of women has improved only modestly,” says Son.
And the gains sometimes fail to tell the whole story. Cambodia has the highest labor force participation rate for women in the region, at 80%. But women are disproportionally represented in low-wage activities, with 75% of working women in agriculture. Wage gaps, too, can be large — women machine operators, for example, earn about 42% less than men, according to the International Labour Organization.
ADB supports gender mainly through its development projects, though some have tackled policy issues, such as the Fourth Financial Sector Program. This assists the government in its financial sector reforms to improve inclusiveness and expand financial services for women and other vulnerable groups, including through microfinance and microinsurance. Among the goals of the Decentralized Public Service and Financial Management Program, supported by a $35 million ADB loan, is strengthening the capacity of local authorities to deliver public services.
“The combination of policy and project support would be a much more effective use of ADB resources, and help give ADB a leading voice among Cambodia’s donors in their policy dialogue with the government on gender equality, which it doesn’t currently have,” says Son.