Social structures shape people’s lives, and they can be daunting if we are not strong enough to resist them. This is true for both women and men. In particular, social structures can be dominant, said university professor, Say Puthy, at a recent roundtable discussion.
The roundtable discussion examined the global perspective of gender equality and stereotypes in Cambodia today. The discussion focused on the traditional social roles of men and women, as well as the opportunities in the political, educational, and economic spheres that are available to women in Cambodian society.
Gender stereotypes are a set of beliefs about the characteristics and roles of men and women. They are often based on traditional social roles, and they can play a role in justifying and perpetuating gender inequality.
Puthy said stereotypes are knowledge structures about particular social groups that may or may not accurately reflect group characteristics. Individual-level cognitive biases, such as self-confirmation bias and subtyping, can make it difficult to notice changes in gender roles in society.
This can limit the opportunity for people to challenge these stereotypes, as they may be less likely to see evidence that contradicts their existing beliefs, she added.
Puthy, a lecturer in gender studies at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said that gender stereotypes in Cambodia are consistent with socio-cultural views and are met with various forms of punishment and devaluation. She believes that this devaluation stems from society's prescriptive views of men and women's roles.
“If you stereotype being a woman, I can drink and smoke like a man does. And a man can just clean homes and take care of children. Is it the quality? So society will not accept it, that is the point of violation of inequalities as a human being. What you are doing is the society structuring you,” she said.
Gender stereotypes limit the opportunities available to women. While they may be able to use their gender to their advantage, such as being seen as strong and capable, they often face challenges due to gender stereotypes. These challenges can include being underestimated by their male opponents and by social groups that do not truly support women.
“Lately in ASEAN, there are many women in a higher position as leaders, but not in a long-term way. They only get one vote, but don't get long. They say, I don't think women can handle the higher position. This is what men think,” Puthy said.
Men often think about gender, but they may not always have the character to challenge their own stereotypes. If they change their thinking, they can change their own stereotypes in a positive way. Women also have a lot of opportunities, and we should not let gender stereotypes hold us back, Puthy said.
The lecturer argues that women should perceive themselves as equals to men, and be persistent and disciplined in their efforts to reach their goals, regardless of the challenges they face.
“Women only prove themselves to be strong like men, there is always darkness at night. Yet, there is a shining shine. If you think outside the box, please be humble and persistent.”
Sun Kim, Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Social Science, International Relations, at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said that Cambodia's gender parity score of 11.1 percent is among the lowest in the world. He added that only 27 percent of women work for the government, and only three percent work in parliament. Kim stressed that achieving gender equality will take a long time and effort.
The Global Gender Gap Index is a tool that tracks progress towards gender equality. It shows that there is still a long way to go, but it also provides evidence that progress is being made. According to the index, it will take at least 192 years to achieve gender equality, 155 years for political empowerment, and 151 years for economic opportunity.
However, he observed that there are four main areas where gender gaps persist around the world: economic opportunities, education, health, and political empowerment. These are global challenges that no country has yet fully addressed.
Kim noted, “There has been a growing international effort to promote women's rights, with ASEAN summits regularly, including an ASEAN Women Leaders Summit. Therefore, the level of contribution to women's empowerment still depends on each country's specific circumstances and global priorities.”
Gender stereotypes can be both positive and oppressive, but they can also be changed. Speakers suggest that we all join together to change and influence our communities. Men need to understand that women are capable of holding high-level positions and change their mindset of underestimating women.
Puthy added that women should be encouraged to pursue their education and careers. The state has a responsibility to promote gender equality by passing laws that protect women's rights and ensure that they have equal opportunities.
The media plays an important role in shaping and influencing people's mindsets about gender stereotypes. For example, many movies and songs portray women as being weak or helpless. This can have a negative impact on how people view women and their abilities, he said.
This can send the message to young girls that they are not as capable as boys. Social media can be actively involved in raising awareness of and challenging gender stereotypes in today's context.
She said that it is important to challenge gender stereotypes and to show that women can be strong in many different ways. We need to create a society where women are free to be themselves, without having to conform to outdated expectations.
She added, “What should women and men be? What should they not be? What are they allowed to be? What do they not have to be? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves as we move into the future. We need to create a world where people are free to express themselves without fear of judgment or discrimination.”