When Women Are Left Out

When Women Are Left Out

Sophoann and her baby. Photo: Oxfam

"With no income Sophoan was unable to pay for essential food, housing or medical costs. Sophoan decided to move in with her mother, also a domestic worker, and depend on her mother’s support."

Sophoan is a domestic worker and mother of three children. She recently gave birth to a healthy third child but her hard life made her very vulnerable when facing what should have been a joyful time.

Sophoan is the main income earner in her family. Her husband works as a motobike cleaner in a small family owned garage, but he can only contribute $50 per month. Domestic work is physically demanding. Towards the end of her pregnancy Sophoan was in unbearable pain, causing potential harm to her baby. She stopped working at 8 months as advised by her mother. But with no income she was unable to pay for essential food, housing or medical costs. Sophoan decided to move in with her mother, also a domestic worker, and depend on her mother’s support.

Aware that Sophoan was unable to work and had no savings, her mother borrowed money from her employer to pay for Sophoan’s birth costs at a hospital in Phnom Penh. Shortly before the delivery her mother got injured at work and was unable to work for a few months while recovering. After Sophoan delivered her baby, she had to care for her injured mother and newborn baby, while paying back the loan. With these demands Sophoan felt pressure to go back to work prematurely, not knowing how or who would care for her newborn child and her mother. But the longer she was unemployed, the deeper the entire family fell into poverty.

Stories like Sophoan’s happen every day in Cambodia

According to ILO, 77% of female informal workers find themselves highly vulnerable at a time when they should be taking care of their newborn babies and enjoying a unique time in their lives.

These stories highlight a growing gap between the rich and poor in Cambodia, and unfortunately this gap is undermining the many efforts to fight poverty. Cambodia is not a unique case. Across the world inequality has been rising, especially in developed countries.

The Cambodian government has taken important steps towards providing healthcare to more people via the introduction of the Heath Equity Card (HEC) and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). These two systems are important steps towards expanding healthcare coverage, but more can be done. More investment is needed to increase coverage and improve the quality of the services.