NGOUV Muy Seo, RADU Mares


Gender discrimination as distinguished from sex discrimination draws attention to the fact that unequal treatment is the result of socially constructed roles rather than mere biological characteristics. Women are still treated unequally in the workplace, in developed and developing countries alike, as evidenced by statistics showing a persistent pay gap. Outside the workplace, girls and women are subjected to various forms of discrimination. Such unequal treatment is further compounded when there are multiple grounds for discrimination (e.g. color, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, disability (chapters 22 and 24)) exist simultaneously. This phenomenon is the issue of ‘intersectionality’ when several forms of discrimination intersect and compound the negative impact. Affirmative action – or more favorable treatment of a group – can be established in law and corporate policy as a way to reverse systemic inequities and patterns of discrimination that deny in practice the equality of opportunities to one group. The economic empowerment of women – especially in local communities affected by large industrial and agricultural projects – has long been a rather uncontroversial aspect in CSR as businesses see it as a positive contribution to society (chapters 5 and 8). Empowerment in the workplace, including in terms of career promotion on equal terms with men, is also an area where leading businesses have adopted special measures. Transnational enterprises that have outsourced production to low wage countries are linked to gender-based discrimination as the labour force of suppliers may in some industries be predominantly female (e.g textiles). It is recognized that these jobs have created financial independence for women, but it is also known that the discriminatory treatment can be both severe and difficult to document (just as infringements of freedom of association (chapter 19)). As part of their responsibilities to eliminate exploitative working conditions (chapters 15-21), companies are expected to perform impact assessments (chapter 9) and take corrective measures (chapter 11) that identify and respond to the particular factors of risk women workers are exposed to, including transportation at night time, childcare facilities, medical evaluations and so on.

In Cambodia, women account for approximately 52% of the total population,[1] and play a significant role in economic growth and sustainable development. Nonetheless, gender discrimination, gender stereotyping, as well as cultural and social barriers remain persistent problems for women in Cambodia, making them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and harassment in various spheres of economic, social and private life. Particularly, women are likely to experience violence in the workplace as a result of their work and economic status. The Royal Government of Cambodia has been committed to promoting gender equality in both public and private sectors. Some recent key commitments adopted in 2019 include the National Policy on Gender Equality, and the third National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women. Internationally, Cambodia has ratified key human rights treaties guaranteeing women’s rights and gender equality, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and its Optional Protocol on individual complaints. Regionally, Cambodia has endorsed a number of ASEAN instruments (the 2004 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in ASEAN, the 2013 ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Elimination of Violence Against Children, and the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women). This chapter explains different forms of discrimination and various areas in and outside the workplace where unequal treatment persists.

Main Aspects

  • Discrimination against women, gender equality, women rights and gender mainstreaming
  • Direct and indirect discrimination
  • Differential treatment (affirmative action)
  • Discrimination by public or private actors
  • ‘Intersectionality’ (intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact)
  • ‘Inherent requirements of the job’
  • Causes of gender inequality
  • ‘Sex’ and ‘gender’
  • Women’s rights and cultural diversity
  • Economic empowerment, protections in employment, right to work, pay gap (gap in wages)
  • Principle of “equal remuneration for work of equal value”
  • Rural women
  • Night work
  • Resettlement (displacement from land)
  • Obligations of states (to respect, protect and fulfil women’s rights)


UN, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action[2]

The Platform for Action is an agenda for women’s empowerment. It aims at (…) removing all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision making. This means that the principle of shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities. Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.

            Critical areas of concern:

  1. The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women.
  2. Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training.
  3. Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services.
  4. Violence against women.
  5. The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation.
  6. Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources.
  7. Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels.
  8. Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women.
  9. Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women.
  10. Stereotyping of women and inequality in women’s access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media.
  11. Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment.
  12. Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child.

UN, Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice[3]

Economic and social participation

38. In its reports, the Working Group has demonstrated how women still face structural disadvantages and discrimination in the economic and social spheres throughout their life cycle. Social and cultural barriers still prevent many girls from completing their education, and legal discrimination, entrenched inequalities in wages and labour force participation and caring responsibilities prevent women from participating equally in economic and social life. Women do 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. Older women suffer from a gender pension gap, making them particularly vulnerable to poverty, and all women face the persistent risk of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in schools, workplaces and other public places, in addition to the home (see A/HRC/26/39).

39. Indeed, women continue to be paid less than men for work of equal value and are severely underrepresented in top leadership in decision-making bodies in business, finance and trade, including in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and in cooperatives and trade unions. Furthermore, women have been grossly underrepresented in the formulation of the macroeconomic policies that have led to rocketing inequality, austerity measures and the undermining of care services on which women are more dependent than men. Today, there are more girls in schools than ever before, but one out of five adolescent girls is still out of school. Moreover, women’s higher educational achievements worldwide have not always translated into corresponding leadership positions or even equality in the economic field. While more women have entered the workforce, they still represent only 49 per cent of working age women, against 75 per cent of working age men. Globally, the gender pay gap still stands at 23 per cent. Women often have access only to vulnerable forms of employment; the majority of women in developing countries are employed in the informal sector or in family businesses, and do not always receive wages directly. In countries where women’s income mainly comes from agricultural activities, they generally have very limited ownership of land.

40. While women’s economic empowerment has proven to be among the least controversial issues relating to gender equality, the underlying cultural, social and political causes of economic inequality have not been successfully and fundamentally tackled. Women’s economic and social rights will never be fulfilled if the necessary infrastructure for care services, enforcement of equal pay for work of equal value, and regulation of women’s labour rights in the informal sector, in which many women are employed globally, are not put in place.

UN Committee on Discrimination against Women, Recommendation No. 28[4]

5. Although the Convention [UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women] only refers to sex-based discrimination, interpreting article 1 together with articles 2 (f) and 5 (a) indicates that the Convention covers gender-based discrimination against women. The term “sex” here refers to biological differences between men and women. The term “gender” refers to socially constructed identities, attributes and roles for women and men and society’s social and cultural meaning for these biological differences resulting in hierarchical relationships between women and men and in the distribution of power and rights favouring men and disadvantaging women. This social positioning of women and men is affected by political, economic, cultural, social, religious, ideological and environmental factors and can be changed by culture, society and community. The application of the Convention to gender-based discrimination is made clear by the definition of discrimination contained in article 1. This definition points out that any distinction, exclusion or restriction which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms is discrimination, even where discrimination was not intended. This would mean that identical or neutral treatment of women and men might constitute discrimination against women if such treatment resulted in or had the effect of women being denied the exercise of a right because there was no recognition of the pre-existing gender-based disadvantage and inequality that women face. (…)

9. Under article 2, States parties must address all aspects of their legal obligations under the Convention to respect, protect and fulfil women’s right to non-discrimination and to the enjoyment of equality. The obligation to respect requires that States parties refrain from making laws, policies, regulations, programmes, administrative procedures and institutional structures that directly or indirectly result in the denial of the equal enjoyment by women of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The obligation to protect requires that States parties protect women from discrimination by private actors and take steps directly aimed at eliminating customary and all other practices that prejudice and perpetuate the notion of inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes, and of stereotyped roles for men and women. The obligation to fulfil requires that States parties take a wide variety of steps to ensure that women and men enjoy equal rights de jure and de facto, including, where appropriate, the adoption of temporary special measures in line with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention (…)

13. Article 2 is not limited to the prohibition of discrimination against women caused directly or indirectly by States parties. Article 2 also imposes a due diligence obligation on States parties to prevent discrimination by private actors. (…) The appropriate measures that States parties are obliged to take include the regulation of the activities of private actors with regard to education, employment and health policies and practices, working conditions and work standards, and other areas in which private actors provide services or facilities, such as banking and housing.

16. (…) States parties shall ensure that there is neither direct nor indirect discrimination against women. Direct discrimination against women constitutes different treatment explicitly based on grounds of sex and gender differences. Indirect discrimination against women occurs when a law, policy, programme or practice appears to be neutral in so far as it relates to men and women, but has a discriminatory effect in practice on women because pre-existing inequalities are not addressed by the apparently neutral measure. Moreover, indirect discrimination can exacerbate existing inequalities owing to a failure to recognize structural and historical patterns of discrimination and unequal power relationships between women and men.

18. Intersectionality is a basic concept for understanding the scope of the general obligations of States parties contained in article 2. The discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them. (…)


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[5]

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (…)

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women[6]

Article 1: For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

Article 2: States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake: (…)

(e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

Article 11

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:

  • The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;
  • The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;
  • The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;
  • The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work;
  • The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;
  • The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.

2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

  • To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;
  • To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;
  • To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities;
  • To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.

3. Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary.

Article 14

1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy (…).

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:

  • To participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels; (…)
    • To obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy, as well as, inter alia, the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to increase their technical proficiency;
    • To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment;
    • To participate in all community activities;
    • To have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes; (…)

ILO, Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention[7]

Article 1

1. For the purpose of this Convention the term discrimination includes–

(a) any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation; (…)

ILO, Equal Remuneration Convention[8]

Article 2: 1. Each Member shall (…) ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value. (…)

UN, Sustainable Development Goals[9]

20. Realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the Goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels. We will work for a significant increase in investments to close the gender gap and strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global, regional and national levels. All forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls will be eliminated, including through the engagement of men and boys. The systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Agenda is crucial.

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

5.a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels         

ILO, General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions[10]

Direct and indirect discrimination

744. Direct discrimination occurs when less favourable treatment is explicitly or implicitly based on one or more prohibited grounds. It includes sexual harassment and other forms of harassment. (…)

745. Indirect discrimination refers to apparently neutral situations, regulations or practices which in fact result in unequal treatment of persons with certain characteristics. It occurs when the same condition, treatment or criterion is applied to everyone, but results in a disproportionately harsh impact on some persons on the basis of characteristics such as race, colour, sex or religion, and is not closely related to the inherent requirements of the job. In referring to the “effect” of a distinction, exclusion or preference, it is clear that intention to discriminate is not an element of the definition in the Convention, which covers all discrimination irrespective of the intention of the author of a discriminatory act. The Convention also covers situations in which inequality is observed in the absence of a clearly identifiable author, as in some cases of indirect discrimination or occupational segregation based on sex. Challenges related to structural discrimination therefore need to be addressed under the Convention.

Distinctions, exclusions or preferences based on inherent requirements

828. (…) In no circumstances should the same requirement involving one or more of the grounds of discrimination be applied to an entire sector of activity or occupation, especially in the public service. Careful examination of each individual case is required. The general exclusion of certain jobs or occupations, including in export processing zones or the public service, from the scope of the measures intended to promote equality of opportunity and treatment is contrary to the Convention.

829. Most of the cases regarding the application of Article 1(2) [of ILO Discrimination Convention (111)] addressed by the Committee have related to distinctions based on sex, religion, political opinion or national extraction restricting access to employment and occupation. The complexity of some of the examples illustrates the importance of providing full particulars on the practical application of this provision in order to be able to assess adequately which cases can be deemed to be non-discriminatory within the meaning of the Convention, and the Committee has regularly requested such information.

830-831. There are very few instances where the grounds listed in the Convention actually constitute inherent requirements of the job. For example, distinctions on the basis of sex may be required for certain jobs, such as those in the performing arts (…) Restrictions for a narrow range of jobs associated with particular religious or political institutions or non-profit organizations and organizations specifically promoting the well-being of an ethnic group may be acceptable. Criteria such as political opinion, national extraction and religion may be taken into account as inherent requirements of certain posts involving special responsibilities. (…)

UN Working Group, Discrimination against Women in Economic and Social Life[11]

Discriminatory legislation in a number of States continues to obstruct women’s enjoyment of equal rights and access to economic opportunity and resources. The roles and responsibilities assigned to women and men on the basis of stereotypes relegate women to a subordinate status and limit their economic opportunities. A significant number of countries have adopted anti-discrimination measures, but these have not resulted in equality of opportunity in women’s economic and social lives.

Women are disproportionately concentrated in informal and precarious employment; they are exposed to multiple forms of discrimination; the wage gap persists; maternity protections have not been fully and effectively implemented; and in many countries women do not have equal rights and access to resources. There has been little attention the negative impacts of the business sector on women’s enjoyment of human rights. Care functions are disproportionately allocated to women and create a major barrier to women’s full participation in economic market activity. Violence against women is another obstacle to women’s equal opportunity. Austerity measures taken by some States in response to economic crisis have had a disparate impact on women, increasing the precarity of their employment and their burden of unpaid care work.

8. This report focuses on the gender aspects of economic and social rights. These rights have particular significance for women, who are disproportionately affected by economic and social marginalization and poverty. Women’s right to equality in economic and social rights is substantive, immediate and enforceable. It concerns the division of existing resources, not the development of resources, and therefore the principle of progressive realization does not apply. (…)

30. Alternatives to austerity have been applied successfully in some countries. Counter-cyclical approaches in general have helped reduce the depth and duration of the impact and leverage a more rapid recovery. The Swedish recovery programme focused on avoiding labour market exclusion, particularly for women, and maintaining paid parental leave and day-care subsidies, recognized as particularly beneficial to women workers. Iceland stands out as a pioneer in adopting policies to protect women in the recent crisis, mainstreaming gender in its recovery measures, and appointing a working group to evaluate the impact of the economic crisis from a gender perspective and ensure that gender equality principles are reflected in State-led initiatives to restore the economy.

46. The gender wage gap persists: women’s wages represent between 70–90 per cent of men’s wages in most countries. Research shows that differences in women’s working hours, which are lower than men’s, cannot justify the wage gap, and the wage gap cannot be attributed solely to a motherhood penalty. Furthermore, wage gaps remain substantial despite women’ gains in education. Indeed, wage gaps are usually wider between men and women with tertiary education.

70. Export processing zones are delineated industrial estates with special incentives set up to attract foreign business and trade. They are feminized work enclaves in which women make up the majority of workers, up to 100 per cent in some cases. Women workers face particularly harsh employment conditions. Normal labour laws are usually not applied. Whether de jure or de facto, there is a lack of union organization and, typically, women’s wages are 20–50 per cent lower than men’s. Furthermore, these zones are a health hazard for women, with overextended working hours, rights violations relating to pregnancy protection, maternity leave or childcare, and sexual harassment.

72. Extractive industries, as well as, increasingly, biofuel, agribusiness and real estate projects, are land intensive, and land dispossession has disproportionately displaced women. Women, who make up 70–80 per cent of the world’s small-scale farmers, lose their livelihood, often do not receive compensation paid to landowners, who are male, and are the last in line for formal employment in the industries. As primary carers, they are deprived of shelter and the ability to feed their families. The arrival of a transient, largely male workforce also increases prostitution, sexual violence and sexually transmitted disease. Mismanagement of extractive projects can also lead to severe violations of human rights that are manifested in unique ways for women, including murder, torture, rape and sexual violence at the hands of security forces brought in to impose order.

OECD, Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises[12]

Commentary on Employment and Industrial Relations

54. The reference to the principle of non-discrimination with respect to employment and occupation in paragraph 1e is considered to apply to such terms and conditions as hiring, job assignment, discharge, pay and benefits, promotion, transfer or relocation, termination, training and retirement. (…)

UN, Women’s Empowerment Principles[13]

1. Leadership Promotes Gender Equality

  • Affirm high-level support and direct top-level policies for gender equality and human rights.
  • Establish company-wide goals and targets for gender equality and include progress as a factor in managers’ performance reviews.
  • Engage internal and external stakeholders in the development of company policies, programmes and implementation plans that advance equality.
  • Ensure that all policies are gender-sensitive – identifying factors that impact women and men differently – and that corporate culture advances equality and inclusion.

2. Opportunity, Inclusion and Non-discrimination

  • Pay equal remuneration, including benefits, for work of equal value and strive to pay a living wage to all women and men.
  • Ensure that workplace policies and practices are free from gender-based discrimination.
  • Implement gender-sensitive recruitment and retention practices and proactively recruit and appoint women to managerial and executive positions and to the corporate board of directors.
  • Assure sufficient participation of women – 30% or greater – in decision-making and governance at all levels and across all business areas.
  • Offer flexible work options, leave and re-entry opportunities to positions of equal pay and status.
  • Support access to child and dependent care by providing services, resources and information to both women and men.

3. Health, Safety and Freedom from Violence

  • Taking into account differential impacts on women and men, provide safe working conditions and protection from exposure to hazardous materials and disclose potential risks, including to reproductive health.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence at work, including verbal and/or physical abuse and prevent sexual harassment.
  • Strive to offer health insurance or other needed services – including for survivors of domestic violence – and ensure equal access for all employees.
  • Respect women and men workers’ rights to time off for medical care and counseling for themselves and their dependents.
  • In consultation with employees, identify and address security issues, including the safety of women traveling to and from work and on company-related business.
  • Train security staff and managers to recognize signs of violence against women and understand laws and company policies on human trafficking, labour and sexual exploitation.

4. Education and Training

  • Invest in workplace policies and programmes that open avenues for advancement of women at all levels and across all business areas, and encourage women to enter nontraditional job fields.
  • Ensure equal access to all company-supported education and training programmes, including literacy classes, vocational and information technology training.
  • Provide equal opportunities for formal and informal networking and mentoring.
  • Articulate the company’s business case for women’s empowerment and the positive impact of inclusion for men as well as women.

5. Enterprise Development, Supply Chain and Marketing Practices

  • Expand business relationships with women-owned enterprises, including small businesses, and women entrepreneurs.
  • Support gender-sensitive solutions to credit and lending barriers.
  • Ask business partners and peers to respect the company’s commitment to advancing equality and inclusion.
  • Respect the dignity of women in all marketing and other company materials.
  • Ensure that company products, services and facilities are not used for human trafficking and/ or labour or sexual exploitation.

6. Community Leadership and Engagement

  • Lead by example – showcase company commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • Leverage influence, alone or in partnership, to advocate for gender equality and collaborate with business partners, suppliers and community leaders to promote inclusion.
  • Work with community stakeholders, officials and others to eliminate discrimination and exploitation and open opportunities for women and girls.
  • Promote and recognize women’s leadership in, and contributions to, their communities and ensure sufficient representation of women in any community consultation.
  • Use philanthropy and grants programmes to support company commitment to inclusion, equality and human rights.

7. Transparency, Measuring and Reporting

  • Make public the company policies and implementation plan for promoting gender equality.
  • Establish benchmarks that quantify inclusion of women at all levels.
  • Measure and report on progress, both internally and externally, using data disaggregated by sex.
  • Incorporate gender markers into ongoing reporting obligations.

Gender Equality: Gender equality describes the concept that all human beings, both women and men, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, or prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born female or male.

            Gender Mainstreaming: Gender mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and social spheres, such that inequality between women and men is not perpetuated.

            Empowerment: Empowerment means that people – both women and men – can take control over their lives: set their own agendas, gain skills (or have their own skills and knowledge recognized), increase self-confidence, solve problems, and develop self-reliance. It is both a process and an outcome.

Women’s Empowerment Principles, Gender Gap Analysis Tool (WEPs Tool)[14] 

The WEPs Tool is a business-driven tool designed to help companies from around the world assess gender equality performance across the workplace, marketplace, and community.

OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct[15]

Q2. How can an enterprise integrate gender issues into its due diligence?

Applying a gender perspective to due diligence means thinking through how real or potential adverse impacts may differ for or may be specific to women. For example, it is important to be aware of gender issues and women’s human rights in situations where women may be disproportionately impacted:

  • In contexts where women face severe discrimination.
  • In contexts where the enterprise’s activities significantly affect the local economy, environment and access to land and livelihoods.
  • In conflict and post-conflict areas.
  • In sectors and global supply chains in which large numbers of women are employed, such as apparel, electronics, tourism, health and social care, domestic work, agriculture and fresh cut flowers.

Additionally it involves adjusting, as appropriate, the actions that enterprises take to identify, prevent, mitigate and address those impacts to ensure these are effective and appropriate. For example,

  • Collecting and assessing sex-disaggregated data and understanding whether enterprise activities impact differently on men and women.
  • Developing, designing and evaluating gender sensitive and gender responsive policies and plans to mitigate and address real and potential adverse impacts identified.
  • Identifying overlapping/ accumulated vulnerabilities (e.g. indigenous, illiterate, female worker).
  • Developing gender sensitive warning systems and protection of whistleblowers.
  • Supporting women’s equal and meaningful participation in consultations and negotiations.
  • Assessing whether women benefit equitably in compensation payments or other forms of restitution.
  • Consulting women outside the presence of men and facilitating separate spaces for women to express opinions and provide input on business decisions.
  • Identifying gender-specific trends and patterns in actual or potential adverse impacts that have been overlooked in the due diligence processes.
  • Assessing whether grievance mechanisms are gender-sensitive, taking into consideration the obstacles that may prevent women from accessing them.

ILO, Promoting Equity: Gender-Neutral Job Evaluation for Equal Pay[16]

Causes of wage discrimination

A great number of studies have examined the causes of this pay gap and have led to the identification of two sets of factors. The first concerns the characteristics of individuals and of the organizations in which they work. The following are among the most important of these factors:

  • Educational level and field of study;
  • Work experience in the labour market and seniority in the organization or in the job held;
  • Number of working hours;
  • Size of organization and sector of activity.

Part of the pay gap could thus be abolished through policies aimed directly at these dimensions such as, for example, adopting flexible working hours in the workplace so as to allow parents to balance work and family responsibilities, making it possible for mothers to continue in their careers without interruption, thus gaining more work experience and seniority.

            Even when this first set of factors is taken into account, however, econometric studies have repeatedly found an unexplained residual gap between the average wages of women and men. (…) In other words, the wage discrimination targeted by Convention No. 100 does not correspond to the whole wage gap that is observed, but only to a portion of it.

The residual gap reflects wage discrimination based on sex resulting from a second set of factors (…):

  • Stereotypes and prejudices with regard to women’s work;
  • Traditional job evaluation methods designed on the basis of the requirements of male-dominated jobs;
  • Weaker bargaining power on the part of female workers who are less often unionized and hold a disproportionate number of precarious jobs.

Rio Tinto, Why Gender Matters[17]

A key objective of the Rio Tinto Communities policy and standard is to “build enduring relationships with our neighbours that are characterised by mutual respect, active partnership and long term commitment”. To effectively achieve this, gender, diversity and human rights considerations must be integrated into the management and planning of all Communities work and across all sections of the business.

Gender refers to the different roles, rights, responsibilities and resources of women and men and the relations between them. A gender focus highlights the complex and often unequal power relationships between men and women which exist in almost every culture and many workplaces. While a holistic focus on gender equality is required, women require particular attention because of the mining industry’s characteristics – its “male” orientation and particular impacts on women. (…)

There is also increasing evidence that women and girls often suffer from discrimination, experience disproportionately negative consequences as a result of mining, and tend to be less likely than men to benefit from the economic and employment opportunities that mining can bring. (…)

While Rio Tinto cannot be expected to change deeply entrenched gender inequalities alone, we do have a responsibility to ensure that our actions do not exacerbate or distort existing inequalities or create new issues in the communities in which we operate. Our corporate commitments to diversity and human rights require that we move beyond impact mitigation to a position where we proactively strive to improve the situation of impacted and affected people – women and men, girls and boys – in all locations where our operations and projects are based.

The approach [of Rio Tinto] can be divided into four inter-related phases, with inclusive engagement sitting at the centre, as a cross cutting theme that relates to all the other phases:

Inclusive engagement

Ensure that women and men from different social groups are consulted and can participate in engagement and development in meaningful ways.

1. Know and understand

  • Develop gender insights through specific consultation with women’s and men’s groups and discuss the findings with community members.
  • Integrate gender issues into all baseline assessments: baseline communities assessments (BCAs), social impact assessments (SIAs) and social risk assessments (SRAs).
  • Consider gender impacts for different stages of mine life (including closure).
  • Identify barriers and constraints to participation along gender lines.

2. Plan and implement

  • Consider and integrate gender issues in the Communities strategy and multi-year plans.
  • Align gender considerations in the Communities multi-year plans with other operational plans within the business unit.
  • Use gender sensitive methodologies to plan and implement community engagement and programme initiatives.
  • Develop other operational plans and standard operating procedures with potential gender impacts in mind.

3. Monitor, evaluate and improve

  • Use a monitoring framework that includes gender sensitive indicators, underpinned by credible data, which is updated regularly.
  • Plan programmes and projects to promote gender equality, and to measure progress against gender sensitive indicators.
  • Develop participatory monitoring and evaluation processes where possible, that are inclusive of both women and men.

4. Report and communicate

  • Publicly report on what action each site is taking to address gender issues and the outcomes of these actions.
  • Present gender-disaggregated data for key performance areas in site reports.
  • Communicate this information to the community.

Vodafone, Sustainable Business Report[18]

Sustainable business strategy

The three global transformation goals are:

  • Women’s empowerment;
  • Energy innovation; and
  • Youth skills and jobs.

Women’s empowerment

We are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. That commitment includes an aspiration to become the world’s best employer for women by 2025. We also recognise the transformative effects of mobile technology for women in low-income emerging markets. Getting a mobile phone for the first time can enhance a woman’s physical and economic security, education, skills, access to employment opportunities and her (and her children’s) health and wellbeing. Our goal is to bring the benefits of mobile to an additional 50 million women living in emerging markets, including women in some of the world’s poorest communities. (…)

Equality of opportunity between men and women is a key indicator of long-term social stability and economic advancement. By empowering women and promoting gender equality we can enable communities, economies and businesses – including our own – to prosper.

Women and men enter the workplace as young adults with equivalent skills and in broadly equal numbers; however, as their careers evolve, a much greater proportion of men than women enter middle and senior-level roles. A significant proportion of women either leave the formal workforce altogether or remain within it but in more junior roles than their male peers. This ‘leaky pipeline’ of female talent is evident worldwide; only four out of more than 190 countries have equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers.

Maternity represents a significant inflection point for many women. A lack of support through pregnancy and childbirth and the challenge of balancing childcare with working life accounts for the departure of large numbers of women from the workplace. Women often experience difficulties in rejoining the workforce after taking a career break to bring up children or support their family. Others may return to work but find fewer opportunities for promotion and progression than their male counterparts. This is a lost opportunity. A new study from KPMG indicates that, at a global level, if more skilled women on a career break were encouraged and able to re-enter the workplace (and on the assumption that they would not displace others in doing so), the maximum potential boost to economic activity worldwide would be around €103 billion, with the potential addition to total household earnings in the region of €290 billion. (…)

We employ more than 108,000 people and are one of the largest foreign investors in many of the countries in which we operate. We also provide employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people across our global supplier base of more than 17,000 companies. (…)

Programmes such as our ground-breaking global maternity policy and our ReConnect initiative to bring women back into the workforce after a career break are designed to address the challenge of the ‘leaky pipeline’ and maximise our ability to recruit, retain and develop women at every level of our workforce.(…)

Worldwide, there are an estimated 55 million skilled women of middle-management level and above who are not in work following a career break, often after having children. This isn’t just a lost opportunity for women and their families; it also means that businesses such as Vodafone are missing out on a huge pool of potential talent, insight and experience. However, getting back into work can be difficult; in recent research, 80% of women who have taken a career break said more support was needed to help them return successfully to the workplace.

In 2017, Vodafone launched ReConnect (…) The programme includes training, coaching and induction programmes to refresh and enhance professional skills to help returners prepare for re-entry to the workplace and progress their careers. Our target is to hire 1,000 ReConnect women over three years in areas such as Technology, Commercial, HR, Finance, Legal, External Affairs, Customer Operations and Business Intelligence & Analytics. This will increase the number of women in management roles; around 10% of all of our external management hires worldwide will be recruited through the ReConnect programme.

ReConnect joiners will be able to take advantage of flexible working options and a phased return to work, such as a four-day week for the first six months. (…) “I felt like my career break wiped clean all of my previous career achievements; it was as if I had never worked. It is very hard being a working mum but it is manageable with the right support. ReConnect gave me this.” (…)

Research by KPMG indicates that recruiting and training new employees to replace women who do not stay in the workforce after having a baby could cost businesses worldwide up to US$47 billion every year. We are focused on ensuring that working parents are encouraged and supported to return to work for us after the birth of a child and can be confident that they have the potential to grow their careers while raising a family.

In 2016, we became one of the first organisations in the world to introduce a global minimum maternity policy. This applies to employees at all levels in every country in which we operate, including countries with little or no paid statutory maternity leave. Over 4,000 of our female employees have gone on maternity leave over the last two years; all were eligible to benefit from the policy, which offers at least 16 weeks fully paid maternity leave, plus full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months.

We offer flexible working, part-time working and homeworking policies across many of our local markets – taking advantage of Vodafone’s remote working technologies – which are designed to make it easier for women and men to balance family and work commitments. Examples of individual local market flexible working practices include:

  • Vodafone Italy employees are encouraged to work from home for one day each week;
  • Vodafone Turkey employees benefit from flexible working hours and can choose earlier or later start or finish times to help them balance work and personal commitments; and
  • full-time employees of Vodafone India can take an unpaid sabbatical (from 90 days to more than one year) to look after children or family members or to develop skills and interests.

IFC, Handbook for Preparing a Resettlement Action Plan[19]

Special Assistance for Women and Vulnerable Groups

Women comprise a disproportionately large number of the poor in most countries. Gender discrimination limits women’s access to resources, opportunities, and public services necessary to improve the standard of living for themselves and their families. As a result, women are often the first to suffer when resettlement is planned or executed badly. Women tend to rely more heavily than men do on informal support networks, such as the help of friends, neighbors, or relatives for child care. Women with children also have less physical mobility to travel to find ways of earning a livelihood.

For these reasons, the sponsors’ efforts to maintain the social continuity of communities affected by a project—whether through the physical design of new sites, measures to prevent the disintegration of the community, or the provision of specialized social services at those sites—are important. Some of the immediate and practical initiatives that can be considered to improve women’s adaptation to the resettlement site include:

  • ensuring that land titles and compensation entitlements are issued in the name of both spouses;
  • reducing women’s workloads by providing, for example, standpipes, hand pumps, grinding mills, woodlots, fuel efficient stoves, ox carts, and plows;
  • improving health services by providing training for village midwives, primary health care centers, child spacing/family planning counseling, clean water supply, and sanitation training;
  • improving family services by providing immunizations, child care for wage-earning women, primary schools, inputs for food-crop production, and housing; and
  • increasing incomes by setting up credit groups, skills training, and access to markets.

However, the social or legal status of women is likely to remain circumscribed and, thus, their ability to improve their own and their family’s livelihoods will be compromised without longer-term “strategic” efforts to change gender discrimination. Some strategic initiatives that can improve women’s livelihoods in their new settings include:

  • improving educational opportunities (providing literacy and numeracy training, promoting girls’ education);
  • improving access to productive assets (credit, legal reform);
  • improving participation in decision-making (support for women’s interest groups); and
  • promoting equal opportunity for women’s employment.

BSR, Gender Equality in Social Auditing Guidance[20]

This guide provides practical guidance and tips for social auditors on how to identify gender-sensitive issues during a social audit. (…) The guide contains four sections: I) process for identifying and assessing gender-sensitive issues; II) gender-sensitive worker interview techniques; III) tips for reporting gender-sensitive issues; and IV) verification measures for different code-of-conduct categories.

Process for Identifying and Assessing Gender-Sensitive Issues

ActionAid, Close the Gap![21]

The causes

Women’s economic inequality is not natural or inevitable. The permanent subsidy to the global economy that poor women’s work represents is a human-made, structural problem: a direct consequence of policies, laws, systems and power structures that prevent women from achieving their true potential and living decently rewarded and dignified lives. There are at least four major structural causes that drive this injustice.

1. Growth at any cost: economic policies fuel inequality in work

Free trade and the rapid globalisation of markets, together with the expansion of many corporations’ supply chains in developing countries, have undoubtedly created unprecedented opportunities for women to access paid work. However, this has still far too often been on unequal and highly exploitative terms.

For instance, women in developing countries often work in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) that attract foreign direct investment, and create demand for cheap labour to manufacture inputs that enter the value chains of multinational corporations. (…)

2. Caring for our people: not counted, not rewarded

Across countries, and regardless of income, women are excessively responsible for unpaid care work, while men are primarily engaged in market-based activities.

Care work includes cooking, cleaning, collecting firewood, taking care of children, the ill and the elderly. It is absolutely central to the proper functioning and wellbeing of societies, as well as to the reproduction of the workforce. It is nonetheless completely invisible in national accounts and statistics. It is taken for granted as a subsidy provided by ‘women’s work’, but it is not really regarded as ‘work’, thus enjoying little recognition or reward. (…)

3. Financing for gender equality: short of the mark

In recent years, states, donors and businesses have all talked about investing more in women and girls. But while more money to support women and girls is of course a good thing, these investments have too often not materialised or have had very limited impacts. (…)

4. Women’s voices: silenced and ignored

That fact that women’s work is subsidising the world economy at a massive scale is also a reflection of gender discrimination at all levels of decision-making as well as the fact that voices of human rights defenders, both women and men, are silenced and ignored.

All over the world advances in respect for women and worker’s rights have been achieved largely as a result of the work of feminist organisations and trade unions. However, governments and businesses continue to undermine rights to association and union representation, while union leaders and women human rights defenders suffer violence and harassment as a result of their work. (…)

Women’s limited representation, voice and leadership are both cause and consequence of gender inequality. While men can be important advocates for change, the lack of women in positions of power means that they are not able to advance politically, express their demands in political processes, or influence the law or resource allocation directly. (…)

ILO, Survey Concerning Working-Time Instruments[22]

International regulation of night work: An evolving rationale

400. When it became evident that industrialization in its first stages was drawing heavily on women and child shift workers, often under arduous working conditions, attempts began to be made to regulate night work. For example, dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century, night work of women was prohibited in the United Kingdom in 1844. However, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that international efforts on this issue began to produce results.

401. Immediately upon its creation, the ILO adopted international standards on night work aimed at protecting vulnerable categories of workers, such as young persons and women in industry. The Night Work (Women) Convention, 1919 (…). The rationale behind these instruments was the need to protect categories which were assumed to be physically weaker, more exposed to the hazards of night work and more susceptible to exploitation. More specifically, medical studies at that time argued that industrial work by women was detrimental to their health and linked to various pathologies, such as chronic anaemia and tuberculosis due to sunlight deprivation. It was also argued that night work of women was immoral and disruptive of family values.

402. Convention No. 4 therefore prohibits the employment of women (without distinction of age) during the night in any public or private industrial undertaking. (…)

404. The question of a revision of Convention No. 89 arose during the 1970s when doubts were raised concerning the appropriateness of maintaining special protective measures for women in light of the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination between men and women in employment. The debate revolved around two main positions. On the one hand, those who advocated the maintenance of restrictions considered that women still need to be protected for a variety of reasons, or that the restrictions should be extended to men, rather than repealed. In their view, night work was abnormal and inherently detrimental to the health and welfare of all workers, and special protection for women from night work was still justified, as women still bore the main responsibility for family and household work. In contrast, those advocating the lifting of night work restrictions argued that the prohibition contravened the principle of equality because different treatment for men and women in this respect had no objective basis. It was argued that the prohibition of night work prevented women from obtaining certain jobs, and often hindered their access to higher wages and premium payments. Moreover, the ban on night work of women was not in line with contemporary conditions and impeded industrialization. Repealing the restrictions on night work would therefore have a positive impact on job creation, production, economic growth and standards of living.

406. In its 2001 General Survey, the Committee concluded that the gender-specific prohibition of industrial work during the night should progressively become irrelevant, and that it should be replaced by laws and practices that offer adequate protection to all workers. This is, however, subject to the understanding that national, regional and sectoral conditions and progress in achieving the elimination of discrimination vary considerably, and therefore that some women workers will still need protection, along with the pursuit of genuine conditions of equality and non-discrimination.

407. The Committee observes that many countries have since moved towards the removal of the prohibition of night work of women in industry in light of the principles of nondiscrimination and equality of treatment in employment and occupation. (…)

409 (…) the Committee has recalled that general protective measures for women workers, such as blanket prohibitions, in contrast with special measures aimed at protecting maternity, are increasingly regarded as obsolete and unnecessary infringements on the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women.

415. (…) protective measures for women should be limited to the protection of maternity in the strict sense, and provisions relating to the protection of persons working under hazardous or difficult conditions, including night work, should be aimed at protecting the health and safety of both men and women at work, while taking account of gender differences with regard to specific risks to their health. With a view to repealing discriminatory protective measures applicable to women’s employment, the Committee has recognized that it may be necessary to examine what other measures, such as improved health protection of both men and women, adequate transportation and security, as well as social services, are necessary to ensure that women can work on an equal footing with men.

[The Protocol to Convention No. 89, and Convention No. 171 were adopted in 1990.]

417. The Protocol to Convention No. 89 gives greater flexibility to the Convention through the possibility of introducing exceptions from the prohibition of night work and variations in the duration of the night period agreed between the organizations representative of the employers and workers concerned. While maintaining the focus on the protection of women from arduous working conditions, it therefore opens the possibility for women to work at night under certain well-specified conditions. 

418. On the other hand, Convention No. 171 is not devised as a gender-specific instrument, but focuses on the protection of all night workers, thereby shifting the emphasis from a specific category of workers and sector of economic activity to the protection of night workers irrespective of gender in almost all branches and occupations. It demonstrates the major shift that has occurred over time from a purely protective approach concerning the employment of women to one based on promoting genuine equality between women and men and eliminating discriminatory law and practice.

World Bank, Women, Business and the Law[23]

Women, Business and the Law 2020 is the sixth in a series of studies that analyze laws and regulations affecting women’s economic opportunity in 190 economies. Eight indicators—structured around women’s interactions with the law as they begin, progress through, and end their careers—align with the economic decisions women make at various stages of their lives. The indicators are Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, Assets, and Pension.

Eight indicators measure legal differences between men and women as they transition through different stages of working life

What does the women, business and the law Index measure?


  1. Can a woman choose where to live in the same way as a man?
  2. Can a woman travel outside her home in the same way as a man?
  3. Can a woman apply for a passport in the same way as a man?
  4. Can a woman travel outside the country in the same way as a man?


  1. Can a woman get a job in the same way as a man?
  2. Does the law prohibit discrimination in employment based on gender?
  3. Is there legislation on sexual harassment in employment?
  4. Are there criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in employment?


  1. Does the law mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value?
  2. Can women work the same night hours as men?
  3. Can women work in jobs deemed dangerous in the same way as men?
  4. Are women able to work in the same industries as men?


  1. Is there no legal provision that requires a married woman to obey her husband?
  2. Can a woman be head of household in the same way as a man?
  3. Is there legislation specifically addressing domestic violence?
  4. Can a woman obtain a judgment of divorce in the same way as a man?
  5. Does a woman have the same rights to remarry as a man?


  1. Is paid leave of at least 14 weeks available to mothers?
  2. Does the government administer 100% of maternity leave benefits?
  3. Is paid leave available to fathers?
  4. Is there paid parental leave?
  5. Is dismissal of pregnant workers prohibited?


  1. Does the law prohibit discrimination in access to credit based on gender?
  2. Can a woman sign a contract in the same way as a man?
  3. Can a woman register a business in the same way as a man?
  4. Can a woman open a bank account in the same way as a man?


  1. Do men and women have equal ownership rights to immovable property?
  2. Do sons and daughters have equal rights to inherit assets from their parents?
  3. Do female and male surviving spouses have equal rights to inherit assets?
  4. Does the law grant spouses equal administrative authority over assets during marriage?
  5. Does the law provide for the valuation of nonmonetary contributions?


  1. Are the ages at which men and women can retire with full pension benefits equal?
  2. Are the ages at which men and women can retire with partial pension benefits equal?
  3. Are the mandatory retirement ages for men and women equal?
  4. Are periods of absence due to child care accounted for in pension benefits?


  • Better performance in the areas measured by the Women, Business and the Law index is associated with more women in the labor force and with higher income and improved development outcomes.
  • Since 2017, 40 economies have enacted 62 reforms enhancing gender equality. (…)
  • On average, women have just three-fourths of the legal rights afforded to men.
  • With a recent reform to parental leave, Canada joins seven other economies that score 100 on the Women, Business and the Law index: Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden.

World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report[24]

Since 2006 the Global Gender Gap Index has been measuring the extent of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracking progress towards closing these gaps over time. (…)

2. Across the four subindexes, on average, the largest gender disparity is—once again—the Political Empowerment gap. Despite being the most improved dimension this year (driving the overall positive performance) only 24.7% of the global Political Empowerment gap has been closed in 2020. The second-largest gap is on Economic Participation and Opportunity; 57.8% of this gap has been closed so far, which represents a slight step back since last year. Progress towards closing the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gaps is more advanced: 96.1% and 95.7%, respectively, of these gaps have been closed to date, both marginally improved since last year.

4. In parallel to improving representation of women among political leaders, the number of women in senior roles within the Economic Participation and Opportunity dimension has also increased. Globally, 36% of senior private sector’s managers and public sector’s officials are women (about 2% higher than the figure reported last year). Despite this progress, the gap to close on this aspect remains substantial as only a handful of countries are approaching parity.

5. In contrast to the slow but positive progress in terms of leadership positions, women’s participation in the labour market is stalling and financial disparities are slightly larger (on average), explaining the step back registered by the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex this year. On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men, while over 40% of the wage gap (the ratio of the wage of a woman to that of a man in a similar position) and over 50% of the income gap (the ratio of the total wage and non-wage income of women to that of men) are still to be bridged. Further, in many countries, women are significantly disadvantaged in accessing credit, land or financial products, which prevents opportunities for them to start a company or make a living by managing assets.

7. Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, on average, across the 107 countries covered continuously since the first edition of the report. Lack of progress in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap leads to an extension of the time it will be needed to close this gap. At the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap. (…)

UN, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights[25]

[Women’s rights versus cultural diversity]

The universality of human rights and their validity in a given local context have often been contested through relativist discourses that brand them as foreign ideas incompatible with local culture. However, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights has warned against discourses that disregard the fact that culture is not static and changes over time. She also points to women’s lack of influence in decision-making processes which define the culture of any given community.

(…) the question of universality has often been raised when States have tried to justify violations of women’s rights in the name of culture. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women in her report on cultural practices within the family that are violent towards women highlights female genital mutilation, so-called honour killings of women, son preference and witch hunting as examples of customs that have been defended under the pretext of being part of a given culture. Stereotypes and cultural norms which dictate prescriptive roles for women in society also have a negative impact on women’s enjoyment of their human rights. For instance, girls’ lack of access to education has sometimes been justified on the presumption that, as mothers and wives, they will not enter the workforce and thus do not require education.

[Gender equity and gender equality]

The term “gender equity” has sometimes been used in a way that perpetuates stereotypes about women’s role in society, suggesting that women should be treated “fairly” in accordance with the roles that they carry out. This understanding risks perpetuating unequal gender relations and solidifying gender stereotypes that are detrimental to women. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has emphasized (…) that “States parties are called upon to use exclusively the concepts of equality of women and men or gender equality and not to use the concept of gender equity in implementing their obligations under the Convention.” As the legal term used in the Convention, gender equality cannot be replaced by equity, which is a concept conditioned by subjective criteria.

Some stakeholders have also favoured the language of equity on the misunderstanding that gender equality means the same or identical treatment of men and women, rather than taking into account the actual circumstances of men and women. As explained above, substantive equality, which is the standard to be met under human rights law, requires measures to achieve equality of results. This may mean that women and men are not always treated in exactly the same manner, in order to redress historical discrimination and/or take account of women’s biological differences.

Equity is the moral imperative to dismantle unjust differences based on principles of fairness and justice. It requires a focus on the most disadvantaged and the poorest. Many [development organizations] have made equity a central part of their agenda. However, from a human rights perspective, relying on equity has certain risks because its definition is a malleable concept that is not legally binding. While equity may denote justice, it may dilute rights claims if considered separately from equality and non-discrimination and risks being defined arbitrarily according to political and ideological expedience.


Gender refers to socially constructed identities, attributes and roles for women and men.  (…) Gender constructions are dynamic and fluid; they change over time and can be different in different cultures. As an example of socially learned differences, women’s role in most societies has traditionally been to take care of the household and the children, whereas the role of men has been to provide for the family by working outside the home. In most societies, these traditional perceptions of women’s and men’s roles have changed and are constantly evolving.

Analysing international law and international human rights law from a gender perspective is important, because gender analysis helps us understand how women and men experience human rights violations differently as well as the influence of differences such as age, class, religion, culture and location. It highlights and explores hierarchical and unequal relations and roles between and among males and females, the unequal value given to women’s work, and women’s unequal access to power and decision-making as well as property and resources. Gender mainstreaming or integration helps assess the impact of different laws, policies and programmes on groups of men and women, as explained in the box below.

Martignoni & Umlas, Gender-Responsive Human Rights Due Diligence[26]

Gender is a category of analysis that can be used to render visible relationships of power and domination. The term ‘gender’ is used to describe the socially constructed differences between people that are: attributed throughout the life cycle; learned, not innate; changeable for any given society over time and manifested with wide variations both within and between cultures. Gender influences the opportunities and resources accessible to people in all societies and has historically resulted in a hierarchical distribution of power and rights that favours men and disadvantages women and people with non-binary gender identities, such as transgender and intersex persons. (…)

The often-used ‘gender lens’ metaphor is not helpful as it implies laying a filter over ‘regular HRDD’ – that is, simply putting ‘gender glasses’ on the process. The concept of ‘gender responsive human rights due diligence’ better captures the give and take relationship between the company and its environment and the need to embed throughout the HRDD process an awareness of and response to what is going on in each context – which could be as wide as the marketplace or as specific as an individual factory or farm.

Gender-responsive HRDD requires companies to take a holistic approach to their operating environments by identifying, preventing, mitigating and accounting for the ways in which their actions or omissions may differently affect men, women and gender non-conforming people. This means that businesses must go beyond minimum standards to respect human rights and also consider ways in which they might use their influence in specific situations to facilitate human rights guarantees by identifying, confronting and helping to dismantle structural forms of inequality. (…)

In a report on corporate HRDD, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights noted that ‘some business platforms suggest that addressing root causes is the next frontier for business’. The same report points to examples in which companies are collaborating with other stakeholders precisely to ‘address specific and complex issues in supply chains’ and other ‘systemic issues’. This bodes well for the kind of work needed for a truly gender-responsive due diligence, which could extend to company engagement at the policy advocacy level: for example, by supporting reform of discriminatory laws. (…)

Many of the employment opportunities that have emerged from trade liberalization in various sectors of the global economy are highly gender-segregated and, as a general rule, women and girls are more likely to be concentrated in precarious jobs characterized by unequal remuneration, poor working conditions, an absence of social security coverage and low levels of unionization. For this and many other reasons, the adoption of gender-responsive HRDD processes by business has the potential to play a crucial role in rendering visible, preventing, monitoring and remedying gendered inequalities on a number of scales, from the local to the national and transnational. (…)

The programmes and initiatives reviewed in this section could be seen as contributing to the rethinking of gender in supply chains going on in many quarters. They suggest that, while there is no simple answer to what gender-responsive HRDD in GSCs looks like, companies might want to consider certain starting points:

  • recognizing embedded gender norms and structural violence that form the backdrop to supply-chain sourcing in many industries
  • looking outside the workplace to understand what happens within it
  • not simply ‘adding workers’ voices’ to social auditing but centering supply-chain labour rights programmes on workers’ own participation in preserving these rights
  • ensuring independent and gender-responsive investigation of gender-related rights violations
  • advocating for gender equality in sourcing-country laws
  • seeing the whole context – focusing on cross-cutting rights violations and how these can reinforce each other
  • understanding the company’s own place in this context and its impact on existing norms

Background (Cambodia)

Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency, Phase IV[27]

2.3. The Four Strategic Rectangles

Rectangle 1- Human Resource Development

Human resource development is considered the priority of the Rectangular Strategy in every stage, and in particular, has become the first priority in the stage 3 and stage 4, aimed at improving education, vocational skills, competence, entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation, virtue, morality, patriotism and sense of responsibility, health and physical fitness, women’s roles and social protection. With this regard, human resource development in the 6th Legislature of the National Assembly will continue to focus on: 1). strengthening of the quality of education, science, and technology sectors; 2). vocational training; 3). enhancement of public health service and nutrition; and 4). strengthening of gender equity and social protection.

Side 4. Improving Gender Equity and Social Protection

The Royal Government’s strategic goal is to strengthen gender equity and social protection to enhance social-economic situation and strengthen women’s role in the society who are the backbone of the economy and society. As a result, the Royal Government has achieved some great results such as mainstreaming gender equity in policy framework and national development plan, reducing gender gap in education, vocational training and civil service; widening women entrepreneurship initiative, reducing domestic violence and sexual abuse against women and children, uplifting social morality, women dignity and Cambodian family, and improving legal service for women and children. With regard to the social protection, the Royal Government has put in place and implemented the “Social Protection Policy Framework 2016-2025” which is comprehensive and respond to actual level of national development along with the reestablishment of its management institutions. In particular, the Royal Government is implementing the food reserve program, school feeding program, scholarship program, cash support to pregnant women and children of the poor families which are part of social assistance system; and has put in place health equity fund, national social security on healthcare and occupational risks for workers-employees under the labor law, healthcare insurance scheme for civil servants, retirees and veterans, and Persons with Disabilities Foundation.

Exploring the Opportunities for Women-Owned SMEs in Cambodia[28]

Women own the majority of businesses in Cambodia (61 percent). As a result, their contribution to the private sector development can hardly be overlooked. This research shows that 90 percent of the SMEs managed by women were profitable last year. Most of them expect growth or at least stable development (84 percent) in the future, affirming that women are motivated and capable to establish and lead businesses. In the long-term, this will help them become independent and fulfill their aspirations.

Nevertheless, a high level of motivation and impressive statistics on economic participation do not necessarily translate into full access to equal opportunities. This research reveals that Cambodian social norms and gender disparities in access to education still prevent women from expanding their opportunities. Consequently, women tend to face more obstacles in terms of access to markets and information, and operational issues of their businesses….

1.4.2 Key Constraints Faced by Women-owned Businesses

Social and Cultural Constraints

For women, a high level of participation in the economy does not necessarily imply that they are able to fully utilize the opportunities and benefits, compared to men. Research and discussions with SMEs and stakeholders have revealed that Cambodian social norms and gender relations pose barriers to women’s economic empowerment and growth; they prevent women from expanding their opportunities. Although women are nominally guaranteed equal rights with men, unlike their male counterparts, women are seen as having a lower status in society (see Box 2).

Women’s subordination to men under the Chbab Srey (traditional Code of Women) limits their economic independence and opportunities. Though Cambodian society has become more open and women are taking on more dominant roles in the economy, the effects of Chbab Srey still perpetuate negative gender stereotypes. Consequently, they prevent women from developing and succeeding in businesses.

Traditional and gender norms assigned to girls and young women (early marriage, household chores, taking care of younger siblings, etc.) result in limited educational opportunities. Consequently, women often enter the labor market with fewer educational qualifications and skills than men. (…)

Instruments (Cambodia)

Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia[29]

Article 31: The Kingdom of Cambodia recognizes and respects human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s rights and children’s rights.

Article 36: Khmer citizens of either sex shall enjoy the right to choose any employment according to their ability and the needs of the society. Khmer citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for the same work… Khmer citizens of either sex 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 members of trade unions. (…)

Article 45: All forms of discrimination against women shall be abolished. The exploitation of women in employment is prohibited. Men and women are equal in all fields especially with respect to marriage and family matters.

Article 46: Trading human beings, the exploitation of prostitution and obscenity, which affect the reputation of women, shall be prohibited.

The termination of a woman’s employment because of her pregnancy is prohibited. Women shall have the right to take maternity leave with full pay and with no loss of seniority or other social benefits.

The State and society shall provide opportunities to women, especially for those living in rural areas without adequate social support, so that they can obtain employment and medical care, send their children to school and have decent living conditions.

Labor Law[30]

Article 12: Except for the provisions fully expressing under this law, or in any other legislative text or regulation protecting women and children… no employer shall consider on account of: race, color, sex, creed, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, membership of workers’ union or the exercise of union activities; to be the invocation in order to make a decision on: hiring, defining and assigning of work, vocational training, advancement, promotion, remuneration, granting of social benefits, discipline or termination of employment contract. (…)

Article 182: In all enterprises covered by Article 1 of this law, women shall be entitled to a maternity leave of ninety days. After the maternity leave and during the first two months after returning to work, they are only expected to perform light work. The employer is prohibited from laying off women in labor during their maternity leave or at a date when the end of the notice period would fall during the maternity leave.

Article 183: During the maternity leave as stipulated in the preceding article, women are entitled to half of their wage, including their perquisites, paid by the employer. Women fully reserve their rights to other benefits in kind, if any (…)

Article 184: For one year from the date of child delivery, mothers who breast-feed their children are entitled to one hour per day during working hours to breast-feed their children. (…) The exact time of breastfeeding is to be agreed between the mother and the employer. (…)

Article 186: Managers of enterprises employing a minimum of one hundred women or girls shall set up, within their establishments or nearby, a nursing room and a crèche (day-care center). If the company is not able to set up a crèche on its premises for children over eighteen months of age, female workers can place their children in any crèche and the charges shall be paid by the employer.

National Strategic Development Plan[31]

3.4 Improving gender equity and social protection

B. Planned Actions to Implement the Prioritized Policies

4.90 The priority activities are: Women in Education and Economic Development

The MOWA will continue to lead the coordination in mainstreaming gender in programs and education systems and promoting women’s economic empowerment and improving the living conditions of the community through:

  • Strengthening the creative, innovative, and inclusive entrepreneurial and business development services of the Women Development Centers.
  • Increasing the opportunity, the friendly environment, the peace and the possibility of women getting the suitable jobs, the development of technical and vocational skills, including digital technology following the women’s needs and market demand, in particular the standard techniques.
  • Expanding partnerships with the private sector and relevant partners in promoting entrepreneurship and potential development, experience and techniques to increase product productivity and reach national and regional markets.
  • Increasing the participation of girls in education at the higher levels, especially in education, science, technology, engineering, creative arts, and mathematics.
  • Promoting vocational trainings, supporting small and medium enterprises, including the National Entrepreneurship Fund and the Center for Entrepreneurship Development responding to gender equality (…)

Neary Rattanak IV: Five Year Strategic Plan for Gender Equality[32]

The Millennium Development Goal Acceleration Framework (MAF) was developed to accelerate achieving CMDG Goal 3, focusing on women’s economic empowerment and mobilizing public institutions, the private sector and development partners. Its three strategies are: 1) Strengthening vocational skills for women based on market demand; 2) Developing micro, small and medium enterprises; and 3) Improving livelihoods in rural areas. (…)

1.1. Women’s Economic Empowerment

Strategic Objective

Improve women’s status in the economy, particularly in formal employment, with increased incomes, livelihoods and social protection, and equal economic and social rights and opportunities.

Strategies (…)

2. Mainstream gender in the assessments for human resource development related to ASEAN integration and ensure inclusion of vulnerable groups.

3. Innovate models for cooperating with the private sector, particularly in developing ‘green’ social enterprises.

4. Promote the establishment and implementation of the National Employment Policy (NEP) and programs that include opportunities for women.

5. Expand women’s benefit through improved working conditions, social protection and labour standards.

6. Facilitate women’s equal access to the arbitration council for resolving labour disputes.

7. Facilitate women’s equal access to vocational training at public, private or NGO facilities.

8. Increase understanding of how to create and strengthen women’s formal enterprises.

9. Facilitate women’s equal access to business services relevant for MSMEs.

10. Enhance networking capacity of women entrepreneurs.

11. Equip women with skills and competencies to manage their households in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

12. Ensure women’s access to secure financial services.

13. Improve women’s economic opportunities so that they have the choice to work, earn income and invest in livelihoods.

14. Promote and address women migrant workers’ challenges in the process of developing migration policies and other migration programs.

15. Ensure the reduction of migration-related risks for Cambodian women workers.

CEDAW, Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of Cambodia[33]


36. The Committee welcomes the high rate of participation by women in the labour force in the State party. Nevertheless, it remains concerned about:

  • The high concentration of women in low-wage and unskilled jobs, including in the textile, garment and footwear industries and the construction sector, where women are employed on short-term or fixed-duration contracts, which undermines their ability to bargain collectively through trade unions and precludes them from basic labour protection and benefits, such as maternity leave and paid leave;
  • The high concentration of women in the informal employment sector, including domestic work, where they continue to be excluded from labour and social security protection, such as minimum wages, overtime compensation and maternity leave;
  • Limited opportunities for women to pursue their careers in the formal employment sector owing to the disproportionate burden of household and childcare responsibilities placed on them;
  • The absence of a comprehensive law that defines and effectively prohibits violence and harassment, including sexual harassment, in the workplace, which is reportedly prevalent in the State party, particularly in the garment industry and while commuting to and from work;
  • The inadequate guarantee in national legislation of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value;
  • The situation of Cambodian women who migrate abroad to work in low-paid sectors such as manufacturing, domestic work, hospitality and agriculture, where they frequently experience abuse and exploitation.

Replies of Cambodia to the List of Issues for the Sixth Periodic Report[34]


80. In 2018, the RGC made significant improvements in women’s workers’ rights and benefits as follows: 1) Employees who are more than 3 month’s pregnant are allowed to leave 15 minutes early from work, 2) Female workers are entitled for free health care during pregnancy and post delivery, 3) Female workers who are pregnant will receive 400,000 Riels for each child at the time of birth, 800,000 Riels for twins, and 1,200,000 Riels for triplets. For triplets, they will also receive 5,000,000 Riels from the Prime Minister, and 4) Female workers will receive 120 per cent of their salary during their 3 month maternity leave, which is equal to USD 218 per month, compared to the monthly minimum wage of USD 182.

81. The RGC has focused on dialogue and cooperation (bilateral, trilateral and multilateral partnerships) through organizing annual consultative workshops to monitor and evaluate labour regulations and policy implementation. MoLVT has organized workshops to discuss drafting the policy on minimum wage and managing the complaint process through the Arbitration Council. Working conditions in the garment industry in Cambodia have improved as a result of the tripartite dialogue mechanism through the exchange of experiences and lesson learned of the Better Factories Cambodia program. MoLVT is currently implementing different policy frameworks to improve the health and safety of female workers in the agriculture and construction sectors.

82. Under the 2016 Law on Trade Unions, in 2018 MoLVT registered 4,621 trade unions with 13,863 leaders, of which 4,853 or 35 per cent are women.

Worker’s Information Center, Employment and Women Garment Workers[35]

(…) even though there has been a minimum wage increase over the past several years, the working and living conditions (see Box A) of women workers have not improved.

(…) When women workers had pain during their menstruation, the supervisor does not allow sick leave to workers, instead asking them to endure the pain as this is the regular (monthly) women issue. (…)

The law on labour (article 186) requires enterprises to set up a nursing room or day-care-centre if the enterprise employing minimum of one hundred women or girls. Five (5) out of 23 factories provide no such facility while the rest, provide either nursing room or day-care-centre without employing a person at the centre. CARE project baseline survey with over 500 workers showed that 44% spend more than USD10 per week on childcare.

“I’ve asked administrator to request the employer to have day-care-centre at our factory, if not possible, maybe provide financial support to mother to put the baby at the place outside the factory.” 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is another significant issue for women workers. CARE International Cambodia study report in March 2017 on The Prevalence and Productivity Cost of Sexual Harassment to the Cambodian Garment Industry found nearly one (1) in three (3) female garment factory workers report experiencing sexually harassing behaviour at the workplace.

Solidarity Center Cambodia, Labor Rights and Gender[36]

Gender Based Violence in the World of Work

5.2. It is notoriously difficult to map out the full extent of gender-based violence in the world of work since the subject is culturally taboo and it is often difficult for victims to speak up. (…) Better Factories Cambodia found only two cases of physical and verbal sexual harassment in their study. However they found forms of harassment, such as threatening and throwing objects in 12% of factories. On the other hand, a 2017 report CARE report found that one third of female workers in the garment industry experience sexual harassment at work. (…) Research by ActionAid in Cambodia found that half of garment workers interviewed had experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace.

5.3. Harassment in the entertainment industry is similarly increasing. Women working in casinos are generally harassed by managers, but also increasingly by customers. One of the union leaders reported that within a two-month period a hiring official threw a water bottle to a dealer leaving bruises on her face. Only after it had happened five times did the company issue a warning.

5.4. In 2018, nine women leaders from seven unions in Cambodia, representing the garment sector, conducted interviews and held focus groups with 83 women garment workers to gather information about the scope and incidence of GBV in garment and apparel sectors. Of these respondents:

(i) 48% self- identified as targets of gender-based violence at work;

(ii) 87% experienced verbal harassment or unwanted touching based on their gender;

(iii) 47% had a supervisor or manager force them to become their mistress or “second wife” with the understanding that it would improve working conditions;

(iv) 28% reported that someone at work forced them to sleep with them to extend a contract, fix their sewing machine or obtain a bonus;

(v) 35% reported their managers to be the perpetrators of GBV;

(vi) 24% reported sewing machine mechanics to be perpetrators of GBV;

(vii) 72 % of workers were on short-term contracts

(viii) 17 out of 49 workers reported having direct experience with or seen verbal violence against pregnant workers.

Maternity and Paternity Protection

7.6. In practice, many factories routinely use short‐term contracts for all staff regardless of length of employment, and fire pregnant women at some point prior to the birth of their child to avoid their legal obligations.

7.7. (…) many women working in the garment industry report that their short-term contracts were not renewed after the employer discovered that they were pregnant. This is also born out by cases reported in the mainstream media. In cases where this is challenged at the Arbitration Council, the burden of proof to establish the pregnancy discrimination is on the employee, not the employer.  This makes proving such discrimination very difficult. In the interviews conducted by WUN in 2019, they found 36 reports of alleged discrimination on the basis of both pregnancy and maternity, including:

i. Pre-employment urine tests (…)

ii. Dismissal of pregnant women (…)

iii. Non-renewal of pregnant women’s contracts (…)

iv. Requiring excessive overtime work from pregnant workers in order to pressure them to quit.

v. Changing worker’s position after becoming aware of pregnancy,

vi. Dismissal of returning FDC worker after requesting breast feeding breaks or lighter duties (…)

Cambodian NGO Committee on CEDAW, Submission to CEDAW[37]

J. Employment

New research conducted in 2019 by 8 unions who belong to the Women Union Network show how pervasive the misuse of fixed duration (short-term) contracts is.  A total of 192 interviews were conducted of 46 men and 146 women who had filed complaints with their respective unions.  32 of the complaints were discrimination against pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, and the rest show a restriction of women’s right to join unions or misuse of fixed duration contracts. The termination of fixed duration contracts was used as a vehicle to retaliate against union members or end the employment of new mothers since no reason is required for non-renewal and the burden is on the worker to prove that the employer had an illegal intent.

(…) Additional research produced in 2019 based in part on interviews of 83 workers from 6 factories found that 72% were on fixed duration contracts and 28% had been forced to have sex by someone at work in exchange for extending a contract, having their sewing machine fixed, or to obtain a bonus. 46% said they had been forced to have regular sex with their supervisor or manager in exchange for improved working conditions. 87% reported experiencing verbal harassment or unwanted touching in the workplace based on their gender.  (…)

Safety while commuting is another key issue for the mainly female factory worker sector. (…) Moreover, lack of safe transport prevents workers from using child care and breastfeeding facilities in those factories that adhere to the legal requirement to provide them. (…)

ACLEDA Bank, Environmental and Social Sustainability Report[38]

The following are key principles in ACLEDA’s corporate social responsibility policy:


  • ACLEDA is an ‘equal opportunity’ employer. Apart from those jobs which involve a higher physical risk (e.g. guards and messengers) appointment to all positions at every level is based entirely on merit regardless of gender or physical disability. (…)
  • The Audit and Compliance Committee under the chairmanship of the Board of Director has been specifically tasked with the responsibility of setting and monitoring the Bank’s moral and ethical standards and respect for human rights. (…)


ACLEDA recognises that playing our part as good citizens in the community in which we abide is vital to our mutual interests and prosperity. Major initiatives we are taking are:

  • ACLEDA practices equality in its lending irrespective of gender or race: 55.10% of our borrowing customers are female. (…)
  • In 2019, ACLEDA Bank Plc. took part in important social and humanitarian activities through the following donations:
  • Sponsored Events
    • Diamond sponsor of the Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA) to support their program “Cambodia Women Entrepreneurship Day” under the title: “Women Business Growth during Digital Era”. (…)
    • Donation to the Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Association on their Gala 7th Anniversary. (…)

J Trust Royal Bank, Remuneration and Benefits[39]

Medical & Insurance Plan

J Trust Royal offers our employees the accidental and health care coverage being provided by well-known  medical and insurance company. The coverage is also extended to employee’s spouse and children.

Baby Delivery Allowance

Childbirth allowance is being offered to provide financial assistance to our female employee who gives birth to newborns.

Variety of Leaves

In addition to annual leave entitlement, J Trust Royal offers our employees with other types of leave which include paid maternity, compassionate, study leave and flexible unpaid leave.

Khmer Times, Interview with TrueMoney’s Chief Strategy Officer[40]

(…) TrueMoney has around 40 percent of women in its workforce.

(…) TrueMoney is an equal opportunity employer and has not implemented any specific initiatives, such as gender-based hiring policies to achieve its gender-balance success. Instead, we have adapted our workplace to ensure that we assist women in applying for leadership positions within the company.

In addition, the overall pool of female applicants applying for the roles we offer has also increased organically as more women are completing higher education and more role models are promoted in the industry.

Looking to the future I believe that if other companies want to achieve a gender-balanced workforce like TrueMoney they need to most importantly empower their female staff at the leadership level. Promoting and empowering strong female leaders is by far the most effective way of achieving a true gender-balance goal at any company.

Better Factories Cambodia, Promoting Gender Equality: Gender Strategy[41]

Labour Participation

The increasing labour participation of women in the economy changes social norms, beliefs and perceptions of gender roles, albeit slowly. Female participation in the labour market is 79.2% compared to 86.7% for men, but a large share of women are employed in vulnerable employment. Vulnerable employment is the sum of own-account work and unpaid contributing family work and typically means long working hours, low productivity and lack of access to social protection. Women’s labour participation is also constrained because of their reproductive role, whereas having children is usually a push factor for men towards employment, it has the reverse effect on women. On average, Cambodian women earn 71% of what men earn, in other words the gender annual earning gap is 29%.


Across the world, women, regardless of age, are often overrepresented in sectors and positions where pay tends to be moderate. This is also the case in Cambodia. Two types of segregation are evident:

  • Horizontal segregation, which relates to the high concentration of women in sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.
  • Vertical segregation, which refers to the high concentration of women in lower ranking positions (the large majority of female garment workers are sewers and most female farmers have more limited access to land and assets).

3. Gender Dynamics in the Cambodian Garment Sector

Workforce and Worker’s Profile

The garment and footwear industry in particular are characterized by a number of specific gender dimensions. The workforce in both industries is comprised of over 80% women. (…)  The move to a new environment with which they are unfamiliar, makes many women vulnerable for discrimination and exploitation (…)


Women are generally recruited for and mainly occupy the lower paid and lower skilled jobs (sewing machine operator) as opposed to men who dominate the higher paid jobs that require more skills and/or are physically heavier (maintenance, repair of machine, washing processes, cutting and printing, loading and unloading containers). Proof of direct discrimination is low, and only in 6% of the factories was gender a factor in hiring decisions in 2015. (…) Explanations for indirect discrimination – employers’ prejudice – have been documented by many: young women are perceived to be more productive than old workers, women are cheaper and more obedient as well as the stereotyping that certain jobs, such as mechanic or manager, are inappropriate for women or because they “cannot do the job”. Career advancement opportunities in the industry are rare, especially for women due to various reasons, including the widespread perception amongst both women and men that women don’t make as good supervisors/managers because of gender stereotypical characteristics as well as their responsibilities at home. The senior management in most factories is most likely male and foreign.

Working Conditions

The working conditions in factories put high pressure on women’s reproductive role. A Cambodian garment worker usually works 6 days a week from 7am to 11am, has a one hour lunch break, and continues from 12pm to 4pm and around 80% of workers work regular over time of two hours a day, commute time not included. (…) In 2015, one quarter of the employers did not provide the breaks or remuneration for breastfeeding correctly. Even if workers are able to take paid time off to breastfeed, the majority won’t take time off because there is no facility (or refrigerator to lactate at work or go home earlier, because there is no transportation available outside regular working hours. (…) many new mothers do not return to the factory after their maternity leave ends, because they are not fit enough yet or cannot combine work and care. However, a large share of these women do return to the sector a little later (usually to a different factory), missing out on the benefits they had gained with their seniority.

Interestingly, women garment workers in Cambodia earn more money on average compared to male garment workers (…) This could be attributed to women spending more money to support their family a phenomenon that has also been found by economists worldwide.

Sexual Harassment

Harassment and sexual harassment is prevalent, but underreported because of a lack of mechanisms to address the issues within factories and because of internalized norms that make it ‘normal’ for people to be treated this way. (…)

The BFC assessment data show that cases of sexual harassment are difficult to identify. There are inevitable limitations to factory assessments – e.g limited time available to build trust, mixed worker interviews, stigmatisation of the victim and lack of formal reporting mechanisms – that are likely to cause underreporting. (…)

Trade Unions

Leadership positions in union confederations, federations and factory level unions are dominated by men. In 2011, all but one leader and intermediate leader of the union confederations were men. More women are increasingly becoming representatives at the factory level, but they are far from being equally represented. (…)

4. Our Approach

As women are often in subordinate positions compared to men, many initiatives are focused on women’s empowerment. Empowerment is the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. It implies women and men and girls and boys setting their own agendas, gaining skills, and increasing self-reliance. It is a process and an outcome. Women’s empowerment implies an expansion in women’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them.

To sustainably change gender inequalities in societies, engagement of men and boys is crucial. Men have specific obstacles to overcome, especially the fact that for many a move towards gender equality is against their short-term interests. In most policies that seek to address gender imbalances, men are implicitly present as “the problem”. When men are present only as a background category in a policy discussion about women, it is difficult to raise issues about men’s and boys’ interests or problems. If large numbers of men are to support and implement gender equality initiatives, it will be necessary to speak in concrete, positive ways to their concerns, interests, hopes and problems.

Better Factories Cambodia, Lessons from Factory Compliance Assessment[42]

(…) Better Work’s 2015 impact assessment (hereafter ‘impact study’), led by Tufts University, revealed the importance of addressing gender equality issues – in particular quality jobs and increased skill sets for women – not only for women’s empowerment but also for better business outcomes and development indicators. (…) The study established a baseline in 2016 that covers 73 randomly selected Cambodian factories and included a survey of 1,500 workers and interviews with 50 managers. (…)

The relevant baseline findings are included in this report, confirming compliance findings and providing contextual information in addition to that captured by our factory compliance assessments. Additionally, as part of our analysis, we take stock of legal provisions and practices relating to gender equality.

The interconnectedness of gender equality themes

The analysis also shows the interconnected nature of the four themes, and why it is that any approach to improve non-compliance rates for a specific question will need to consider more than that single issue to be transformative.

For instance, the highest reported non-compliance rate (i.e. for functioning nursing rooms and childcare) points to much wider issues, namely the challenge to combine paid work and care. Motherhood seems to be defined by the challenge of combining work and care.

Enabling women and men to combine paid work and care in decent ways is detrimental to achieving gender equality.

With a short duration of maternity leave, the return to work is challenging as women struggle to find adequate childcare options and cannot combine (exclusive) breastfeeding an infant with work in a garment factory. Non-compliance rates are not expected to improve much unless women start being closer to their children whilst at work and can and continue to breastfeed – a vicious circle.

The challenge to combine paid work and care leads to (sometimes unconscious) restricted opportunities for promotions and skills development, which in turn leads to a limited number of women in leadership positions. Successful strategies combatting sexual harassment and discrimination at work have been linked to a higher number of women in leadership positions, underlining the importance of creating circumstances in which women can reach their full potential.

A fair representation of women and men in leadership positions is also needed within trade unions. Not only are more female leaders needed to address women specific issues, breaking the stereotypical assumption that mainly men are involved with union activities (and “trouble makers”) is equally important to combat discrimination.

CARE International, I Know I Cannot Quit[43]

In Cambodia, traditional gender norms mean that women are expected to be moral, invisible, and hardworking, and to carry a societal obligation to support their family. This carries into women’s work within the garment industry, where women are expected to adjust to harmful, sexist gender norms that exclude, harass, ostracise or devalue their contribution.

When there are limited institutionalised means of empowering women and ensuring a workplace is free of violence, women’s individual coping mechanisms come into play to protect safety and dignity at work. This means that women carry the burden of preventing double victimisation – first, they may be subject to harassment or violence and second, they may experience the victim shaming and blaming that ensues. This mental stress of self-regulation by women is a productivity cost to the industry and an indication that existing mechanisms to address sexual harassment are not effectively reducing, preventing or addressing workplace violence for women. Sexual harassment productivity costs may be evidence of ineffective action by employers and duty bearers.

“If it’s not violent, they [the garment factory] give a warning. They say that if a worker has three warnings, then they should be fired. But I’ve never seen that happen at my factory…”

“The men around here, they see it happening, they hear us calling for help, but they don’t help us. They are scared of the bad boys, because sometimes they carry knives or guns.”

The social and economic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace are high, as acts of workplace violence affect not only direct survivors and perpetrators, but also indirect victims, factories and society at large. Evidenced in this study, sexual harassment can discourage women and men from working (absenteeism and turnover) and reduce productivity. Furthermore, the qualitative data shows harmful and discriminatory societal norms that support victim shaming and blaming, which may prevent women from discussing or reporting harassment or violence in the workplace and community. In the absence of a minimum level of protective or preventative measures in the garment industry, women workers shared in interviews they have little means to protect themselves nor receive appropriate support from factory management and duty bearers in the community.

CARE Cambodia, Legal Analysis: Sexual Harassment in Cambodia[44]

The study finds certain gaps and challenges must be addressed in order to improve the prevention and response to sexual harassment in workplaces.

On the duty bearer side, all types of respondents reported: a lack of awareness of SH by the duty bearers (whether SH is an issue and it is against the law); no clear definition of SH in the workplace; negative attitudes of certain duty bearers toward SH and victims (i.e. delaying the response, not taking it seriously, blaming victim); not all work settings have SH policies and complaint procedures; no meaningful cooperation from employers of entertainment settings; lack of collaboration and coordination among duty bearers (i.e. MoLVT-GF, MoT-Entertainment settings); and no budget to address the issue thoroughly.

On the public/victim side, there are four main obstacles: lack of general awareness people on SH and its impacts; regarding SH as a joke or blaming the victim; lack of trust in legal and judicial systems (stemming from a lack of response or forced meditation outside the judicial process); fear of further hurt or that the perpetrator will seek revenge or that they may themselves get in trouble.

Ty et al, A Study of Women Entrepreneur Development[45]

“The majority of Cambodian men believe that Cambodian women are naturally timid, docile, and less capable than they are. The fact that these same men may have wives, mothers and sisters who run businesses, work in private and government organizations, and share equally in family decision-making has nothing to do with the dominant notion of abstract Cambodian womanhood. This view permeates to the highest levels of the political apparatus.”

Cambodian women, historically, have played an important role in society not only as family chiefs but also as contributors to key sectors of Cambodia’s economy such as agriculture, garments industry, local markets and the informal economy. That role was greatly increased by the effects of the Pol Pot era, when many more men than women were killed and remaining women had to struggle with the social and personal implications of the gender imbalance and with the need to take a greater role in the labour market. (…)

Cultural barriers define the role of women in the economy. They are expected to work inside the house in providing domestic services while men are expected to be household leaders and to work outside the house. This situation, ambivalent as it is, nevertheless determines the opportunities women have to receive education and to gain inherited income for entrepreneurial activities and they have to struggle against the expectation that they will confine themselves to household duties. Women, consequently, have tended to end up in low-skill and low-income jobs, both because of restricted choice and because women’s work tends to be lowly valued. These gender issues are embedded in the culture and structural in nature. Since Cambodia is a hierarchically ordered society with strong notions of power and status, this reflects both on the condition of social relations and the relations of production. Not only is it very difficult for women to control the resources necessary to organize a business effectively, they must also defer to social norms in their choices in the personal sphere. Consequently, it is socially unacceptable that Cambodian woman marry to a man who has lower education. This attitude limits girls in pursuing further education since it reduces their ability to marry and is rarely supported by their families. Further, women are not encouraged to have higher position than their husbands, although it is acceptable for women to be involved in trade to support the family and also allow their husbands to maintain a low salary but high status government position. Cambodian women are expected to confine themselves to the domestic world and there is little if any concept of them seeking fulfillment in outside the house activities.


  1. What are the common forms of gender discrimination at workplace?
  2. What does ‘intersectionality’ mean in the context of discrimination? Why is it important to recognize intersectional discrimination? Can you give examples from Cambodia?
  3. What are the responsibilities and roles of business sector in promoting gender equality at workplace? Can you find examples of best practice in Cambodia?
  4. How do social or cultural norms affect women in employment?
  5. Are there gaps in Cambodia’s laws or policies on women’s rights and gender equality in relations to employment? What about in implementation and enforcement?
  6. What are the impact and importance of Cambodia endorsing UN and ASEAN instruments on gender equality?
  7. What is ‘intersectionality’? Can you give concrete examples in Cambodia?

Further Readings

[1] General Secretariat of the National Assembly of Cambodia, Gender Statistics Report: The Challenges of Women in Leadership: Key Findings from Gender Statistics Analysis, 2020, http://www.nac.org.kh/Images/Women%20in%20leadership-Eng-Final.pdf.

[2] UN, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, The Fourth World Conference on Women (1995)


[3] UN, Report of the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice A/HRC/38/46 (2018) https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/132/85/PDF/G1813285.pdf?OpenElement.

[4]  UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 28 on the Core Obligations of States Parties under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/GC/28 (2010) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/GC/28&Lang=en.

[5] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/searchbylang.aspx.

[6] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CEDAW.aspx.

[7] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), (1958) www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C111

[8] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100) (1951) www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C100.

[9] UN General Assembly, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1 (2015) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.     

[10] International Labour Organisation (ILO), General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions Concerning Rights at Work in Light of the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (2012) www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_174846.pdf (references omitted).

[11] UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice, Eliminating Discrimination against Women in Economic and Social Life with a Focus on Economic Crisis, A/HRC/26/39 (2014) https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WG/A.HRC.23.50_English.pdf.

[12] OECD, Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2011) http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/mne/48004323.pdf.

[13] UN Global Compact and UN Women, Women’s Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business (2011) www.unglobalcompact.org/library/65.

[14] Women’s Empowerment Principles, Gender Gap Analysis Tool (2018) https://weps-gapanalysis.org.

[15] OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct (2018)http://mneguidelines.oecd.org/OECD-Due-Diligence-Guidance-for-Responsible-Business-Conduct.pdf.

[16] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Promoting Equity: Gender-Neutral Job Evaluation for Equal Pay: A Step-by-Step Guide (2008) www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_122372.pdf.

[17] Rio Tinto, Why Gender Matters (2009) www.riotinto.com/documents/ReportsPublications/Rio_Tinto_gender_guide.pdf.

[18] Vodafone, Sustainable Business Report (2017) http://www.vodafone.com/content/dam/vodafone-images/sustainability/downloads/sustainablebusiness2017.pdf.

[19] International Finance Corporation (IFC), Handbook for Preparing a Resettlement Action Plan (2002) www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/22ad720048855b25880cda6a6515bb18/ResettlementHandbook.PDF?MOD=AJPERES.

[20] Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Gender Equality in Social Auditing Guidance – Summary (2018) www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/report-view/gender-equality-in-social-auditing-guidance

[21] ActionAid, Close the Gap! The Cost of Inequality in Women’s Work (2015) www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/womens_rights_on-line_version_2.1.pdf.

[22] International Labour Organisation (ILO), General Survey Concerning Working-Time Instruments – Ensuring Decent Working Time for the Future (2018) www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/107/reports/reports-to-the-conference/WCMS_618485/lang–en/index.htm (references omitted).

[23] World Bank, Women, Business and the Law (2020) https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/32639/9781464815324.pdf.

[24] World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report (2020) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf.

[25] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Women’s Rights are Human Rights (2014) www.ohchr.org/Documents/Events/WHRD/WomenRightsAreHR.pdf (references omitted).

[26] Joanna Bourke Martignoni & Elizabeth Umlas, Gender-Responsive Human Rights Due Diligence, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights (2018) www.geneva-academy.ch/joomlatools-files/docman-files/Academy%20Briefing%2012-interactif-V3.pdf.

[27] Royal Government of Cambodia, Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency: Building the Foundation Toward Realizing the Cambodia Vision 2050, Phase IV (2018) http://cnv.org.kh/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Rectangular-Strategy-Phase-IV-of-the-Royal-Government-of-Cambodia-of-the-Sixth-Legislature-of-the-National-Assembly-2018-2023.pdf.

[28] International Finance Corporation, Exploring the Opportunities for Women-owned SMEs in Cambodia (2019) https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/9e469291-d3f5-43a5-bea2-2558313995ab/Market+Research+Report+on+Women_owned+SMEs+in+Cambodia.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=mOU6fpx.

[29] Cambodia, Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (1993) https://pressocm.gov.kh/en/archives/9539.

[30] Cambodia, Labor Law (1997) https://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/docs/701/labour.

[31] Royal Government of Cambodia, National Strategic Development Plan 2019-2023 (2019) http://www.mop.gov.kh/en-us/Home/Download/85bc808d-ea30-4f5f-95af-766e8490c3c5.

[32] Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Neary Rattanak IV: Five Year Strategic Plan for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2014-2018 (2014) https://www.kh.undp.org/content/dam/cambodia/docs/DemoGov/NearyRattanak4/Cambodian%20Gender%20Strategic%20Plan%20-%20Neary%20Rattanak%204_Eng.pdf.

[33] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW Concluding Observations on Cambodia (2019) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fKHM%2fCO%2f6&Lang=en.

[34] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Replies of Cambodia to the List of Issues and Questions in Relation to the Sixth Periodic Report of Cambodia (2019) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fRLI%2fKHM%2f37384&Lang=en.

[35] Worker’s Information Center, Women and Employment: Cambodia Women Garment Workers’ Experience, Shadow Report for Working Group 74th Session of the CEDAW Committee (2019) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fCSS%2fKHM%2f37334&Lang=en.

[36] Solidarity Center Cambodia, Alternative Report on Labor Rights and Gender for Submission to the CEDAW Committee (2019) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fCSS%2fKHM%2f37341&Lang=en.

[37] The Cambodian NGO Committee on CEDAW (NGO-CEDAW), Submission by NGO-CEDAW for the 74th session of CEDAW Committee for the review of Cambodia’s Compliance with CEDAW (2019) https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fCSS%2fKHM%2f37361&Lang=en.

[38] ACLEDA Bank Plc, Environmental and Social Sustainability Report (2019) https://www.acledabank.com.kh/kh/eng/bp_sustainabilityreport.

[39] J Trust Royal Bank, Career: Remuneration and Benefits (2020) https://jtrustroyal.com/en/careers/remuneration-and-benefits/.

[40] Harrison White, Financial Technology Sector Promotes Strong Female Leadership, Khmer Times, Interview with TrueMoney’s Chief Strategy Officer Frandara (Dara) Khuon (2020) https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50764034/financial-technology-sector-promotes-strong-female-leadership/?fbclid=IwAR0nmxL8yajf3-2D2LyXcqTDBjblqGyVIcDdzPaTO_GuSfb17HtVz7FjzZA.

[41] International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC), Better Factories Cambodia: Promoting Gender Equality: Gender Strategy 2017-2018 (2018) https://betterwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Gender-Strategy-2017-18.pdf.

[42] International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC), Better Factories Cambodia: Towards Gender Equality: Lessons from factory compliance assessments 2017-2018 (2018) https://betterwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Toward-Gender-Equality-2017-18.pdf.

[43] CARE International, ‘I Know I Cannot Quit’: The Prevalence and Productivity Cost of Sexual Harassment to the Cambodian Garment Industry (2017) https://insights.careinternational.org.uk/media/k2/attachments/SHCS_Full_Technical_Report_March_2017.pdf.

[44] CARE Cambodia, Legal Analysis: Sexual Harassment in Cambodia (2015) http://ticambodia.org/library/wp-content/files_mf/1459134069ff000a_f907ab0dcd704844b47d7651a13ae23f.pdf.

[45] Makararavy Ty, Chhuntek Sov, John Walsh & Pacapol Anurit, ‘A Study of Women Entrepreneur Development in Small and Medium Enterprises in Cambodia: Challenges and Opportunities’, Journal of Global Management Research (2009) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283354255_A_STUDY_OF_WOMEN_ENTREPRENEUR_DEVELOPMENT_IN_SMALL_AND_MEDIUM_ENTERPRISES_IN_CAMBODIA_CHALLENGES_AND_OPPORTUNITIES_UNE_ETUDE_SUR_LE_DEVELOPPEMENT_DES_FEMMES_ENTREPRENEURS_DANS_LES_PETITES_ET_MOYENNES_.


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