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Women Lead the Way at Times of Crises

ISSUE 2020
No 06
Release 25 March 2021
By Socheata TOUCH*

This year, International Women’s Day was celebrated with the theme: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. This theme highlighted the essential roles many women and girls play during difficult times.

The world is in the middle of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. By and large, women around the world, including those in Cambodia, are helping their countries cope with and mitigate the pandemic’s adverse effects.

In Cambodia, this is not the first time for women leaders to rise to the challenge and provide much-needed leadership through bold and decisive actions on the political and economic fronts. Many women leaders and women-led organisations in the country have been working together to reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on the existing gender-based social inequalities and vulnerabilities.

Many women-owned businesses, especially the small and medium varieties, have been severely hit by the pandemic. A rapid assessment of COVID-19 impact on rural women and enterprises in Takeo and Pursat provinces found a significant decline in women’s income and access to natural resources needed for farming, fishing, and other modes of livelihoods.

Additionally, the study, which was done as part of the UNEP-managed EmPower project, found that more than 42 per cent of the respondents either do not know or do not have access to doctors and health clinics. Such a lack of access to health care facilities contributes further to women’s vulnerability to diseases and associated economic impacts such as the loss of livelihoods. Noticeably, the latest community outbreak of covid 19 or the so-called “February 20 Event” has threatened people and businesses in Cambodia on a relatively wider scale. Women are more likely than men to lose jobs, and SMEs are facing bankruptcy.

However, every crisis also comes with opportunities. Here in Cambodia, there is a real opportunity to support and promote more women-led enterprises as part of the ongoing socio- economic recovery efforts. The assistance should focus on helping women have access to finance, technology, market and innovation to add value to their existing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Some initiatives from the Cambodian government, development partners, and the private sector have set up the Covid-19 response by working with many women-led MSMEs to recover and rebuild their businesses.

Another critical area that needs more focus and support is helping women-owned enterprises go digital. Digitalisation has vital roles to play in this pandemic context. The right information- sharing platforms and health preventive measures are crucial. People have to follow the government’s guidance and obtain trusted news to minimise the risks. The digital platforms enable women to implement social distancing while capitalising on the opportunities of the ever-expanding e-commerce platforms in Cambodia, ASEAN and the world.

Apart from creating new market opportunities for these existing enterprises and their products, the online platforms will empower women-led enterprises to benefit and participate in e- commerce and trade more equitably and actively.

At the national level, enabling policies should foster more collaborations among various actors such as technology start-ups, incubators, MSME clusters, finance institutions, government and development partners. One such example of a multi-stakeholder initiative is the eTrade for All enterprise, which builds sustainable networks in developing countries to make digital economy more inclusive. eTrade for Women, a significant spin-off from this initiative, is working with leading women digital entrepreneurs from developing regions through a dedicated network of eTrade for Women advocates. Such enabling platforms are critical, supporting specific enterprises and shaping policy frameworks and regulations on digital infrastructure.

Some of the women-led business entities and networks in Cambodia should collaborate to support more digital innovation, marketing, and transformation to help their struggling brethren recover. At the same time, they need to have forward-looking vision by taking advantage of Cambodia’s and ASEAN’s new digital and economic opportunities.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Asian Vision Institute.