Sexual harassment in the workplace has been brought up for discussion, with the goal of raising awareness on how to avoid gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH), as well as properly designing grievance mechanisms that are sensitive and responsive to GBVH.
On Monday, EuroCham, in collaboration with the Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), hosted a forum aimed at raising awareness on how to prevent GBVH in the workplace and promote responsible business practices.
Sar Sineth, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Development at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said that the Ministry, in collaboration with 16 other ministries, organizes a national plan to combat violence against women every five years.
The prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace is also one of the indicators of the national action plan, she added.
"The Ministry has partnered with relevant NGOs and ministries, like the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, in order to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace,” she said. “Combining forces to avoid sexual harassment is important not just at the national level, but also at the subnational level."
She added that the purpose of a national plan is to reduce violence against women through a multi-sectoral preventative strategy, including ministries and institutions that target key stakeholders to promote positive change.
As it is difficult to offer a service to save a victim of sexual harassment, the Ministry of Women's Affairs has developed five training packages to strengthen the capacity of service providers to respond to victims of gender-based violations, she said.
"This training is incredibly crucial, especially for the health sector, as it allows them to know how to support the victim. For instance, what should they do in a rape case? It cannot take more than 72 hours to discover evidence to place the responsibility on the culprit,” she said. “It also includes mental health consulting training."
According to a recent Discussion Paper published by ILO, sexual harassment in Cambodia is a widespread phenomenon in many workplaces, with an estimated 40 to 60 percent of women and 10 percent of men being harassed at work.
Sovann Vannaroth, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said that according to Article 172, all forms of sexual violation and harassment are strictly forbidden. "If anything happens in work, it will be a criminal life."
Moreover, to specifically safeguard individuals working in the entertainment industry, the government issued a report in 2014 on working conditions, occupational safety, and health for entertainment companies.
“This is where Article 8 will be applied. It is a zero-tolerance principle in the prohibition of violence and harassment of workers,” she said. “If we find sexual harassment and violence against the worker in this specific industry, it will be criminal life as well.”
Cambodia has implemented policy measures and action plans to prevent sexual harassment and violence, including a rectangular strategy (Phase IV), a national strategic development plan 2018-2023, Cambodia's sustainable development goals framework (2016-2030), and Neary Rattanak V (2019-2023), she said.
According to the prior report, just a few incidences of sexual harassment were reported. However, Vannaroth knows that violence and harassment are not completely eliminated. It still happens today, she said.
"That’s why we need to understand exactly what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace. So, we must collaborate in order to design a suitable guideline that can be applied to all sorts of employees,” she added.
“Or, at the very least, we can all agree that such action, such definition is considered violence and harassment in Cambodia within the context of our culture."
She noted that the majority of sexual harassment victims have mental health issues as they are unable to continue working and they depart, she added.
“We don't want anyone to quit the workplace, so we want everyone to be protected and to work in a good environment as well,” she said. “We believe it is important to see how we can develop a good collaboration, especially with enterprises and workers.”