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Global communities have been affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has widened the social and economic divides already present. The crisis has mostly affected vulnerable communities, notably women. This paper examines the effects of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste and Cambodia, focusing on how the epidemic has exacerbated poverty and gender inequality in both nations. We may acquire a thorough knowledge of the difficulties experienced by women in these situations by looking at the intersections between gender and socioeconomic issues.
Southeast Asian nations Timor-Leste and Cambodia each have distinctive social, cultural, and economic environments. However, both countries struggle with gender inequality and poverty in similar ways. These problems have become worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has undone years of advancement and widened existing inequities.
This article argues that, with a focus on women, the COVID-19 epidemic has worsened already existing poverty and inequality in Timor-Leste and Cambodia. We will investigate the economic effects of COVID-19, the pandemic's effects on women, and the gender disparities that persist in both nations in order to support this assertion. In order to acknowledge the fact that women who experience various disadvantages are especially susceptible to the pandemic's impacts, we will also look at the idea of intersectionality.
The next section of the study will cover the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, including how they have affected GDP, supply chains, and unemployment rates. We will next look into the pandemic's gendered effects, including the disproportionate amount of unpaid care labor, the loss of livelihoods and money, and the rise in spousal abuse and gender-based violence.
In addition, we will investigate the gender disparities that exist in Timor-Leste and Cambodia, taking into account elements like political representation, property ownership, and cultural norms. A thorough knowledge of the underlying structural problems that lead to the vulnerability of women in these nations will be provided by this investigation.
By looking at the overlapping variables of ethnicity, disability, informal labor, and the rural/urban divide, we will also recognize the varied experiences of women. knowledge of how the epidemic has affected women in various circumstances on a variety of levels requires a knowledge of these complicated dynamics.
We will then look at how governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have responded to these issues. We will highlight policy initiatives to combat gender-based violence, gender inequality, and poverty, programs to support women's economic empowerment and advancements in healthcare and social protection.
Impact of COVID-19 on the economy
The decline in GDP and economic sectors
The COVID-19 epidemic has had a substantial negative impact on the economy of Cambodia and Timor-Leste, causing a large drop in GDP and hurting a number of economic sectors. Lockdowns, travel bans, and other socially isolating policies have interrupted economic activity and caused a decline in output, trade, and investment.
The pandemic's effects were made worse in Timor-Leste, a nation that relies largely on oil exports, as a result of the concurrent drop in world oil prices (World Health Organization et al,2020). Given that oil is a major source of income, the country's economy was severely damaged by the drop in prices and demand, which resulted in a reduction in GDP. Similar to China, Cambodia too saw a severe decrease in economic production as worldwide demand for clothing and overseas travel dried up due to the country's heavy reliance on the textile industry and tourism.
Disruptions in supply chains and trade
Trade between Timor-Leste and Cambodia has been significantly disrupted by COVID-19-related limitations and supply chain interruptions (Joshi et al,2021). Businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), that depend on imports and exports , have been hampered by the closing of borders, constrained transportation, and diminished demand.
Supply chain breakdowns in Timor-Leste made it impossible for numerous businesses to get necessities, medical supplies, and raw materials (Kumar et al,2022) . The agriculture industry has been impacted, which has a further detrimental effect on rural life, as have restricted export options and closed international borders. Similar issues were encountered by Cambodia, which depends heavily on exports of clothing, when international companies canceled orders, resulting in the closure of factories and the loss of jobs.
Rise in unemployment and job insecurity
In Timor-Leste and Cambodia, where the epidemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on women, unemployment and job instability have increased (Berno et al,2022) . Many workers have experienced layoffs, reduced working hours, and lost pay as a result of the economic crisis and business closures.
The informal economy of Timor-Leste, which primarily employs women, has been badly impacted (Wang et al,2021). Women make up a sizable share of the workforce in sectors including tourism, hospitality, and small-scale business. As a result of the drop in demand, these sectors sustained revenue losses and job instability. Similar factory closures and mass layoffs occurred in Cambodia's garment sector, a significant employer of women, leaving many of them without jobs and scrambling to find other means of income.
Increased poverty rates
Timor-Leste and Cambodia's rates of poverty have increased as a result of COVID-19's economic effects (Dörrenbächer et al,2021). Vulnerable people, such as women and their families, have been plunged further into poverty as a result of the GDP reduction, increased unemployment, and income loss.
The epidemic in Timor-Leste has made already severe inequities worse because of the country's high poverty rates. Women have been disproportionately affected by the fall in economic activity and loss of livelihoods, especially those working in informal jobs where they frequently lack social protection and are more susceptible to economic shocks.
Similarly to this, the economic crisis in Cambodia has plunged many households—especially those led by women—into poverty (ESCAP et al,2021). Due to interruptions in the agricultural supply chain and restricted market access, women in rural regions who depend on agriculture and informal employment have encountered severe difficulties.
Women are particularly affected by the deepening of poverty rates because they are more likely to be responsible for taking care of their families, have less access to social security, healthcare, and education, and are more susceptible to exploitation and gender-based violence.
III. The pandemic's effects on gender
An excessive amount of unpaid caregiving is required
The gender discrepancies in unpaid caregiving that already exist have been made worse by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has increased the burden on women in Timor-Leste and Cambodia (Newman et al,2021) . Women have been pushed to assume more caregiving duties inside their families as a result of the closing of schools, childcare centers, and eldercare institutions.
In both nations, cultural norms and conventional gender roles frequently stipulate that women should do the majority of household duties, childrearing, and elderly care. Due to the pandemic's increased demands, women are spending more time providing unpaid care for others, which inhibits their capacity to pursue educational goals, earn a salary, or participate in decision-making processes.
Loss of income and livelihood for women
The loss of livelihoods and income during the epidemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on women in Timor-Leste and Cambodia. In the unregulated industries that have been badly hit by lockdowns and restrictions, such as street selling, domestic employment, and agriculture, women are overrepresented.
The closure of markets and the lack of economic activity in Timor-Leste, where women are heavily involved in small-scale commerce and informal companies, has resulted in income losses. Similarly to this, many women in Cambodia are now jobless and seeking to find other means of income as a result of the collapse of the textile sector.
In addition, women who work in the formal sector have experienced shorter working hours and employment instability. They are more susceptible to layoffs and salary reductions due to the insecure nature of their job, which exacerbates their already difficult financial situation.
Increasing domestic violence and gender-based violence
The safety and well-being of women in Timor-Leste and Cambodia are seriously threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic's spike in gender-based violence and domestic abuse. Household violence has grown as a result of a mix of pressures including job loss, financial difficulty, and social isolation.
Women have been forced into violent relationships by lockdown procedures and travel limitations, which have impeded their capacity to get support and assistance. In addition, the difficulties that survivors of abuse experience are made worse by disruptions in support services and restricted access to justice.
The epidemic has made domestic violence even more prevalent in Timor-Leste, where rates were already high. Women who need help face obstacles because of limited access to support services, a lack of understanding, and societal shame associated with violence against women.
Similar to Cambodia, there are now few choices for escape and healing for victims of gender-based violence due to the closing of shelters and restricted provision of support services.
Limited availability of reproductive and medical services
In Timor-Leste and Cambodia, the epidemic has made it more difficult for women to receive healthcare and reproductive services (ESCAP et al,2022). Women's access to basic healthcare, including prenatal care, reproductive health services, and contraception access, has been hampered by overburdened healthcare systems, resource limitations, and movement restrictions.
Both nations place a heavy emphasis on public healthcare systems, which were overburdened during the epidemic. Women's access to healthcare facilities has been hampered, especially in remote locations, by financial restrictions, fewer transportation alternatives, and fear of getting the virus.
The options women have about their reproductive health and family planning have been impacted by supply chain interruptions that have resulted in shortages of crucial medications and contraceptives.
The gender disparities that exist in Timor-Leste
Disparities in literacy and education rates by gender
In Timor-Leste, there are still gender-based educational discrepancies, and girls still have difficulty getting a good education and reaching parity in literacy rates (Marcos Barba et al,2020). Girls' enrolment rates are lower and their dropout rates are greater as a result of cultural norms and conventional gender roles frequently favoring males' education over girls'.
Girls' educational possibilities are further hampered by a lack of infrastructure, particularly in rural regions, limited access to schools, and a paucity of skilled instructors. Teenage pregnancies and early marriages often cause females to stop attending school, which keeps the gender difference in literacy rates alive.
Limited decision-making and political representation
In Timor-Leste, women are notably underrepresented in positions of political leadership and decision-making. Although women actively participated in the fight for independence, they are still underrepresented in official political organizations.
Women who want to run for political office face obstacles due to the male-dominated nature of the political environment as well as cultural and societal expectations (Fabinyi et al,2022). The marginalization of women in politics is further exacerbated by ingrained gender stereotypes and prejudices, a lack of funding, and restricted access to educational and professional development opportunities.
Discrimination in property rights and land ownership
In Timor-Leste, women are discriminated against when it comes to property rights and land ownership. Male inheritance is frequently given preference by cultural norms and traditional practices, which limits women's access to land.
Legal frameworks and land tenure systems that make insufficient allowances for women's land rights may also perpetuate gender inequities. Women's access to and ownership of land and property is further complicated by a lack of paperwork, complicated land registration procedures, and little knowledge of legal rights.
Cultural and societal expectations that affect women's position
Gender disparities in Timor-Leste are significantly shaped by cultural and social norms (Price et al,2020). Traditional customs like dowries and bride prices perpetuate women's inferior status, fostering inequality, hastening early marriages, and limiting their ability to make important decisions.
Domestic abuse and sexual harassment are only two examples of gender-based violence that is still frequently accepted in society. Women are less likely to report events and seek assistance due to stigma and societal expectations, which feeds the cycle of violence and reinforces power disparities.
The unequal distribution of unpaid care work is partly a result of cultural norms relating to gender roles and duties, which also restrict women's participation in economic activities and decision-making.
Cambodia's ongoing gender inequality
Gender disparities in education and employment
In Cambodia, there are gender differences in both schooling and employment. Due to lower enrolment and completion rates for girls than for males in elementary and secondary education, educational disparities continue.
Due to issues including poverty, travel time to and from schools, early marriage, and cultural expectations that place a higher priority on domestic duties than education, women in Cambodia also struggle to get access to a high-quality education.
There are significant gender disparities in workforce participation (Grant et al,2023). Men predominate in higher-skilled and higher-paying industries, whereas women are more likely to work in low-skilled, informal professions like agriculture and clothing manufacturing. Gender differences in the workforce are caused by a lack of access to skills training, discriminatory employment practices, and social expectations.
Insufficient diversity in political leadership
In political leadership and decision-making roles, women are underrepresented in Cambodia. Although the constitution contains measures supporting gender equality, women nevertheless face substantial obstacles to participating in politics.
The idea that women should put more of their attention on home responsibilities than political activism is sustained by cultural conventions, stereotypes, and conventional gender roles. Women's political growth is further hampered by discrimination, harassment, and restricted access to financial and political networks.
Differences in property ownership and land rights
In Cambodia, gender inequality is still prevalent in many areas, including land rights and property ownership (Ingram et al,2020). Male inheritance is frequently given preference by cultural norms and traditional practices, which limits women's access to land and property ownership.
Land rights are distributed unevenly due to weak legal systems and implementation deficiencies. Due to complicated and discriminatory procedures, a lack of knowledge of their rights, and a lack of participation in land governance decision-making processes, women have difficulty acquiring and registering land.
Women's exploitation and trafficking
Significant obstacles exist in Cambodia regarding the exploitation and trafficking of women. Women and children are more vulnerable to sex trafficking, forced labor, and underage marriage, among other types of exploitation.
The vulnerability of women and girls is exacerbated by factors including poverty, illiteracy, and a lack of job prospects (Jendrissek et al,2021). The cycle of exploitation is sustained through ineffective law enforcement, corruption, and social acceptability of gender-based violence.
Although efforts have been made to combat trafficking and help survivors, more must be done to address the underlying causes of exploitation and develop comprehensive preventive and protective measures.
Intersectionality: Multiple disadvantages for women
The agriculture sector and rural women
Due to their gender and employment in agriculture, rural women in Timor-Leste and Cambodia have overlapping disadvantages (Nuruzzaman et al,2021). These women are frequently in charge of performing agricultural work, such as planting, harvesting, and food processing. However, they encounter several difficulties, such as restricted access to useful resources like loans and land, as well as a lack of markets and extension services.
The gendered division of labor, cultural expectations, and discriminatory practices restrict rural women's access to education, healthcare, and decision-making possibilities. In rural areas, these interconnected disadvantages worsen poverty and sustain gender inequality.
Ethnic minorities and Native American women
Timor-Leste and Cambodia both experience interlocking types of marginalization and discrimination including indigenous women and ethnic minorities. Due to their gender, ethnicity, language, and cultural identity, they frequently encounter a variety of difficulties.
These women encounter obstacles when trying to obtain economic, medical, and educational possibilities. Their drawbacks are exacerbated by discrimination, social marginalization, and a lack of representation in decision-making processes. Due to the frequent invasion and exploitation of strong interests in their native territory, indigenous women and other ethnic minorities also struggle with concerns related to land rights.
Women who are disabled
Due to their gender and disability status, women with disabilities in Timor-Leste and Cambodia have overlapping disadvantages (ESCAP et al,2021). They frequently encounter a variety of kinds of prejudice as well as roadblocks to essential services, healthcare, education, and work.
Their marginalization is exacerbated by negative preconceptions, social stigma, and accessibility issues. In addition, women with disabilities have fewer possibilities for social and economic involvement and are more likely to experience gender-based violence.
Informal laborers and the urban poor
In Timor-Leste and Cambodia, women who work in informal jobs in urban impoverished neighborhoods confront interrelated disadvantages. They frequently have access to little social protections and low-paying occupations with little job stability.
These women struggle with issues including subpar housing, a lack of access to sanitary facilities and clean water, and a shortage of healthcare options. Their susceptibility is further increased by discrimination, exploitation, and hazardous working conditions, which further maintain inequality and poverty.
(Kwon et al,2022)
VII. Reactions from the government and NGOs
Policies to combat poverty and gender disparity
In order to combat gender inequality and poverty, the governments of Timor-Leste and Cambodia, as well as NGOs, have enacted policy initiatives (Kwon et al,2022). To mainstream gender equality across multiple sectors, these approaches include creating and implementing gender-responsive policies and action plans.
The legislative structures that safeguard women's rights, advance gender equality, and combat discrimination has been strengthened. For instance, Timor-Leste approved the Law Against Domestic Abuse, which offers survivors of gender-based abuse legal protection.
The National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women, which includes steps to improve access to justice, support services for survivors, and promote awareness about gender-based violence, has been put into effect by the government of Cambodia.
Encouragement of Women's economic emancipation
In both nations, initiatives have been taken to boost women's economic empowerment. The improvement of women's access to financial resources, credit, and entrepreneurial possibilities is the subject of several government and NGO programs.
By providing training, access to loans, and business support services, initiatives like Timor-Leste's National Strategy for the Development of Rural Women and the National Women's Economic Empowerment Programme seek to increase women's economic engagement.
In a similar vein, programs in Cambodia like Women's Entrepreneurship Day and the Women Entrepreneurs' Association encourage women's economic empowerment via skill development, financial access, and market connections.
Measures are taken to combat gender-based violence
Governments and non-governmental organizations in Timor-Leste and Cambodia have both started campaigns to eliminate gender-based violence (Niner et al,2023). The goal of awareness projects, training courses, and capacity-building programs is to alter attitudes and actions that support violence against women.
In addition to offering legal assistance and counseling services, shelters and support services have been developed to give survivors of gender-based violence a place to call home. In order to develop complete response procedures, cooperation between government agencies, NGOs, and civil society organizations has been essential.
Increasing social security and Healthcare Services
In both nations, measures to improve healthcare and social protection have been taken in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, with an emphasis on meeting the unique requirements of women.
In distant locations, in particular, governments and non-governmental organizations have pushed to increase access to healthcare facilities, especially maternity care and reproductive health services. To support gender-responsive healthcare and empower women, awareness programs on sexual and reproductive health rights have been launched.
The scope of social protection programs has also been increased to include assistance for women and other vulnerable populations. The socio-economic effects of the epidemic have been lessened with the implementation of cash transfer programs, food aid, and social safety nets.
As a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, women in Timor-Leste and Cambodia have suffered greatly, contributing to increased poverty and exacerbated gender disparities. The epidemic has caused supply chain interruptions, a drop in GDP, rising unemployment, and higher poverty rates. With increasing gender-based violence, unpaid caregiving, lost livelihoods, and restricted access to healthcare and reproductive services, women have been disproportionately affected.
Additionally, the epidemic has highlighted the gender disparities that already existed in both nations. Women have been further marginalized by gender disparities in political representation, discrimination in property ownership, and cultural and social standards. The difficulties experienced by rural women, indigenous women, women with disabilities, and urban poor women working in informal jobs have been made worse by intersectional disadvantages.
Governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other international players must act quickly to solve these issues. It is important to establish gender-responsive policies that support women's political representation, economic empowerment, and access to healthcare and education. It is essential to make efforts to stop gender-based violence and guarantee women's access to land and property ownership. In order to address the growing inequality and poverty among women, social security mechanisms must be strengthened and access to high-quality healthcare services must be increased.
In order to develop an inclusive and equal society, cooperation and collective efforts are required. Timor-Leste and Cambodia can work towards sustainable development where women have equal opportunities, rights, and agency by putting women's rights and well-being first. A chance to reconstruct institutions and systems with gender equality at the forefront has been offered by the COVID-19 pandemic, paving the path for a more resilient and inclusive future.
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