Cambodia: Closing the credit gap for women entrepreneurs

5 min read

Codes of conduct at odds with legal codes

Women are viewed as high-risk borrowers and offered loans with much higher interest rates than men.

The Cambodian Constitution includes several Articles that support equality between the sexes; however, we found evidence that common practices across the four areas under inquiry are in tension with the law, limiting women's financial inclusion.

Article 31 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of several categories, and includes a catch-all prohibition against discrimination based on any other "status." It reads as follows:

"Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status."

A number of other Articles further advance the principle of non-discrimination in the areas of economic activity being considered in this study. These Articles give the Constitution a particular voice on labor law, which is complemented by the distinct Civil Code. Several relevant Articles of the Constitution are excerpted below:

Article 35: "Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation."

Article 36: "Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to obtain social security and other social benefits as determined by law. Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to form and to be member of trade unions… Khmer citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work."

Article 44: "All persons, individually or collectively, shall have the right to ownership."

Article 45: "All forms of discrimination against women shall be abolished."

The sense of equality advanced by these Articles is in alignment with the gender-neutrality of other of Cambodia's laws. For instance, Article 8 of Cambodia's Land Law makes no distinction between men's and women's right to own land; Cambodian contract law uses the formulation "him/her" to explicitly invoke both genders. On questions such as whether women can hire employees, enter into contracts, and so on—the law paints a clear picture of equality.

However, it is important to point to the many practices that run counter to the equal opportunity enshrined by law. For instance, though women may independently apply for and borrow money, limited collateral and low levels of education present disproportionate obstacles compared to those faced by men. Women are viewed as high-risk borrowers and offered loans with much higher interest rates than men. Such small loans, with high interest rates, leave women stuck in an irremediable situation of debt. A UNICEF report indicates that 42 percent of Cambodian women have debt either in cash or in kind.11 In a further example, though the Land Law mentioned above is neutral as to gender, land rights for women—especially for women-headed households—are often ignored, partly owing to lack of knowledge of land rights and of land titling procedures. Cultural practices may prevent women from seeking justice. Traditionally, Cambodian women are expected to follow a code of conduct known as chhab srei, which dictates the ideal femininity as polite, quietly spoken and weak.12 This leads to biases against women in law enforcement and in adjudication of disputes.

A number of additional legal provisions and government programs actively promote women's financial inclusion. Cambodia ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICSESCR), which includes equal access to property ownership, administration and disposition in marriage (though without any explicit provision prohibiting discrimination against women in obtaining land titles). The government's Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan (GMAP) seeks to increase equality in land ownership by providing for specific procedures for the registration of women and by facilitating increased collaboration between the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC).
12National Survey on Women's Health and Life Experiences in Cambodia Report. World Health Organization. Western Pacific Region.


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