Women’s Involvement in Policy Implementation: Experiences from Gender Mainstreaming Policy on Community Fisheries Management in Cambodia

1. Introduction

Everywhere in the world, in former times, women were ignored not only in decision making, but also in having their views heard. This paper is a case study on an aspect of gender issues in community fisheries in Cambodia, one of the least developed countries in Asia. In Cambodia, in particular, over its long history, women were expected to be at home in order to take care of their family members and to do the housework. Women were not sent to school nor allowed to work outside their house except in the paddy rice field. That is why there is an old Khmer expression that still exists saying that ‘srey bangvil chankran min chum’, meaning - in direct translation - women are not able to move the stove, because they are seen as being too weak for heavy physical labour. This expression is used to imply that women could only work on ‘unimportant’ things, in the kitchen and other housework, but not important things. This viewpoint is taken even more seriously in the rural areas of Cambodia; it is a saying that gives less attention to women.

In political discourse, nowadays, it is believed that women have a significant contribution to make towards better development practice. There has been a long debate among many scholars, leading to putting gender as a centre of concern for improving the involvement of women in decision making, so called gender mainstreaming in politics. Following this understanding of the role of woman in many development sectors, lead, in 1997, to gender being included in the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals. National policies and legislation, including the Rectangular Strategy and the National Strategic Development Plan 2006-2010, now strongly support gender equity and mainstreaming. With one of Cambodia’s own Millennium Development Goals aiming ‘to eliminate gender disparities in social, political and economic spheres of life’ there is a strong driving force politically and there is also donor support for promoting these principles into practice.

Although women’s access to education and health services remains deficient (Khim et al., 2002; IFM, 2007), they are taking more responsibility for engaging in their community. According to a report published by National Institute of Statistic (2004), approximately 30 per cent of the heads of households are women. They are now not only housewives, but are also income supporters for the family as well. In rural areas, women are not only undertaking more tasks in labour force, but also in the economy by contributing to the family’s income through such as involvements as agricultural farm hands, fish traders and processors, gatherers of forest and aquatic products.

Specifically in fisheries sector, on one hand, women contribute significantly to the total inland fish production through small-scale fishing. They are also involved in income-generating activities such as gathering of aquatic plants and animals, fish culture, fish processing, fish marketing, fish trading, and making of fishing gear. On the other hand, women have been neglected in the policies and programs for inland fisheries in Cambodia. They are generally stereotyped as physically weak and not suitable to engage in fishing. Fisheries researchers and policy makers also tend to view the household as a single unit, an approach that has muted gender issues in the household (ADB, 2007).

By understanding this issue, plus realising that gender is an issue that requires more attention, lead to gender issues being put into Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, as a result of these concerns, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) established the Gender Mainstreaming Policy and Strategy in Agriculture, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Following MAFF’s lead, the Fisheries Administration (FiA) also formulated its own Gender Mainstreaming Policy and Strategy in Fisheries Sector for 2008-2012 (FiA, 2007). One of its main objectives is an ‘increase in the ability of rural women to access, manage and benefit from fisheries resources and services.’

In practice, however, given the fact that to implement such a policy – it has just been established for less than a decade – is far beyond the government’s ability to implement this policy while the norms and thinking that have been embedded in the cultures and practices in Cambodian society are radically different from the policy proposals. A similar argument is made by Ledgerwood (1992), drawn out from Ojendal and Sedara (2006), who argues that within the existing of norms and practices, women are more influential in social life than in the political sphere. Hence, as a consequence of this situation, to encourage gender mainstreaming in this kind of society where women are considered as unimportant, is a very big challenge. The difficulty with gender mainstreaming in the development sector is how local practitioners might translate this principle into practice, for example, in the numerous fishing-dependent communities around the country.

In response to this challenge, therefore, CBNRM LI initiated a research study called ‘An understanding on women’s roles, needs, and aspirations in community fisheries management (CFM) in Cambodia’. This study was conducted in close cooperation with the FiA in order to move its gender mainstreaming policy forward in a real practical and workable manner by trying to understand: the roles of women and men in fisheries and Community Fisheries (CF) at the household and community levels; the needs and aspirations of women associated with CF; the practical strategies and opportunities that will need to be provided to the Gender Mainstreaming Group of Fisheries Administration for increasing women’s participation in CF planning; and implementation within the Gender Mainstreaming Policy and Strategy in the Fisheries Sector.

In Cambodia, CF was introduced since late of 1990s and recognized by the Royal Government since October 2000 and cover 56 per cent of fisheries domains of the Cambodia fisheries. CF was proposed and established by the local people to manage the fish resource in their own areas in sustainable way in order to improve the livelihoods and poverty reduction. For detail research paper