Jul 31, 2023

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA ran a successful fundraising appeal over May and June to support its project for working women in Cambodia.

Thanks to the generous donations of our supporters, we raised $74,400. This money will go towards a project to advocate for gender equality within unions and train women to become union leaders.

Women lack representation

In Cambodia, women’s workforce participation is high, particularly in sectors like garment manufacturing and construction where women occupy 90% and 40% of jobs respectively. However, they are often excluded from leadership and decision making, with leadership positions in representative organisations, even in industries dominated by women workers, largely held by men. Making things harder, women’s and workers issues are often dealt with separately in policy discussions, compounding their marginalisation. This lack of representation leads to disadvantage, with only 1 in 5 collective bargaining agreements including key women’s issues, like maternity leave, equal opportunity in training and education and equal pay, and women workers, especially those employed in precarious and informal work, facing barriers to accessing their entitlements.

Recognising the need for change, since 2020 Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA has been working in partnership with three Cambodian unions representing more than 27,000 members with large numbers of urban women workers and the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) to address these issues.  Following widespread consultation, it was agreed that to advance women’s access to decent work, it is essential to give them a seat at the table; to improve women’s participation within their unions by addressing women members’ priorities and improving the quality of representation of gender equality issues by these organisations.

Action plan for gender equality

The Women Workers Rights through Stronger Trade Unions Project is helping these organisations transform gender and power relations within their own structures. Over the past three years, the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF – representing hotel and restaurant service staff and the large number of women involved in food processing), the Building and Woodworkers Trade Unions of Cambodia (BWTUC – representing the large number of women employed in unskilled, low waged labouring jobs in Cambodia’s booming construction industry), and the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA – representing informal economy workers, such as street vendors, waste collectors, domestic workers and tuk-tuk drivers) have been supported by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA to design and implement gender and power analyses, reflecting on the role of women within their ranks.  Each has then developed an action plan to address gender inequality within their organisations. These included actions like establishing women’s committees and implementing quotas to ensure women’s voices are heard and valued. By involving women in decision-making processes, these unions are making sure their concerns and perspectives are taken seriously and means they can better advocate for women’s priorities.

Women tuk tuk drivers take to the stage at the 6th National IDEA Congress, March 2023

While the project started slowly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since ramped up and has been steadily building momentum. Consulting with their members and working with civil society and the Cambodian government through MoWA, the unions have identified three shared priorities for action for women workers: – increasing access to the national social security fund, – ending harassment and violence, and – improving occupational health and safety. The project has then provided a joint campaign platform for interventions to address identified gaps in these areas.

Key achievements

  • Union action plans based on women’s needs assessments and gender and power analysis have increased staff awareness about women’s issues and priorities and led to amendments to organisational policies and procedures, including the establishment of women’s committees, gender training tool kits, staff and organiser training, review of labour laws for gender equity, commitments to increase the proportion of women in union leadership, and allocation of funding for advancement of women within their unions.
  • One woman has been elected as a vice-president at BWTUC – a first for the construction union.
  • 20 women have been elected as union representatives after undertaking BWTUC’s leadership training at six brick kilns.
  • Union partners have developed posters and are using regular workplace visits to raise women-worker’s issues, facilitating regular women’s committee meetings, and conducting trainings for officials, staff, and members.
  • Project collaboration has resulted in joint campaigns and awareness raising events, high-level dialogues, briefing notes and two videos raising awareness among decision-makers and communities about women in informal economy jobs and women’s access to social security.
  • A survey of barriers to women’s access to social protection was conducted by MoWA and used for a campaign to improve access and quality of the Cambodian National Social Protection Fund (NSSF).

Following national policy dialogues, MoWA distributed these leaflets to relevant Government Ministries and Institutions raising awareness about issues affecting women workers in the informal economy.

  • Working with the broader union and women’s rights movements, union partners co- hosted an event for International Women’s Day in March 2023, with more than 300 people calling for justice for all women and girls.
  • In June 2023, MoWA, led by their Secretary of State Her Excellency Chan Serey hosted a national dialogue on increasing women workers’ access to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Featuring around 80 participants, including representatives from the Australian Embassy, unions, NGOs and various government agencies such as the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, Ministry of Tourism, Department of National Social Security Fund (NSSF), and the National Council for Social Support, these kinds of activities are helping to build consensus and support for promoting and increasing women’s access to decent work and social support in Cambodia.

MoWA host a national dialogue on increasing women workers’ access to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), June 2023

Looking forward

Wrapping up the final year of this phase of the project in June 2023, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has been working with project partners to document their experiences and processes.  This has been a great opportunity to share, reflect and take on board learnings and good practices of unions’ institutional strategies to better incorporate women and address their concerns and roles in the unions effectively. An independent evaluation of the project will be completed to inform the development of the next phase of the project, which aims to build on the many successes so far.

Gender policy was developed thanks to this project. This is guidance for us to keep updating ourselves that we must pay attention to gender issues. For example, at union level, more female leaders were born because of this policy. We educated unions members about importance of promoting women to leadership positions”- A male union leader

While plans are still being developed, everyone agrees that the first phase has led to significant progress and the project continues to be “highly relevant” to partners’ priorities and needs.  The money raised from our fundraising appeal will help fund this next, which will ensure the important work of supporting training programs, raising awareness about workplace harassment and advocating for policies and actions that support gender equality can continue.

The Women Worker’s Rights through Stronger Trade Unions project in Cambodia is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Australian trade unions, and members of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA.

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