The faces of COVID-19

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Economic crises typically have a way of impacting the vulnerable, disadvantaged, and low socioeconomic populations in our communities. Exacerbated by a health pandemic that has resulted in severe impacts to economic growth and development, the women and children of Cambodia have yet again been left destroyed in the wake of COVID19.

Women have been known to be a driving force in economic development and growth around the world. A few years ago, The Economist shared that rising female employment and increased participation in the workforce has played a major role in the increased economic growth and development seen in the last few decades globally.[1]

The Impact

In Australia, research shows that the recession brought about by COVID19 affected women much more significantly than men and will result in a compounded economic disadvantage over the course of their lifetime. For instance, women lost more employment compared to men, shouldered a higher proportion of the rise in unpaid work and caring responsibilities and were less likely to receive government support[2].  This phenomenon was replicated in Cambodia with the pandemic affecting women and children more drastically.

Information published by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade shows that in Cambodia, women represent approximately 83 percent of garment workers and a significant proportion of tourism and entertainment industry workers. With these sectors bearing the brunt of COVID19 related closures, women face an increased risk of gender-based violence and related exploitation[3]. Combined with the increased caring responsibilities that women undertake when children no longer can attend school in person, the proportion of women leaving paid employment to take care of their families increases.

Survey data collated from the World Bank in May 2020 in Cambodia has shown that in the wake of the pandemic, to cope with job losses, households have reduced food consumption that most families have relied on government support[4].

How We Are Addressing This Issue 

Our program partner, Human and Hope Association Cambodia, have continued to support the women who have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. Leab is a 58-year-old widow who was earning USD$1.25 a day making rattan baskets. The pandemic destroyed her only source of income, causing immense financial stress and food insecurity.  In early 2021, HHA Cambodia was made aware of Leabs situation through the Village Chief. They provided her with an emergency food pack, then in May, with funding from the Goodridge Foundation, Leab partook in the Home Food Garden Project. 

Leabs land is quite small and wanting to give her the best opportunity to get ahead, her Village Chief provided Leab with his unused land so she could grow a larger quantity of vegetables.

Leab now sells her surplus vegetables to a wholesaler in her village and has doubled her pre-pandemic income. 

Leab shares: “through attending the program, I received farming materials, fertilizer, and five types of seeds including salad, sponge gourd, wax gourd, winter melon and mustard green. I also gained new knowledge on growing vegetables, how to make compost fertilizer and natural pesticide. I am so happy and grateful for your support because now I can feed myself, earn money to pay my debts and support my family.”

Funding from the Goodridge Foundation

After hearing the success of the Home Food Garden project, families in Kaev Poar Commune have approached HHA Cambodia to enrol, with the backing of the Commune Chief. There are 669 Poor Level 1 and 2 families (those with the highest poverty level and experiencing severe food insecurity) in Kaev Poar Commune. We are thrilled to announce that the Goodridge Foundation has provided funding to support 95 families from Kaev Poar Commune to establish food security.

A darker and sadder side to this pandemic and its impact on women in Cambodia has been the rise in trafficking of Cambodian ‘brides’ as the increasing job losses caused by the pandemic has driven young women and girls abroad to support their families back home. Reporting by Reuters[5] has shown that most of these trafficked victims are in their twenties but girls as young as fourteen have been trafficked as brides and return to Cambodia with severe abuse and trauma, all for the promise of a little money to assist their poor families.

As the effects of the pandemic continue to worsen, and cause intergenerational equity, it is important that we raise awareness of the continued socioeconomic disadvantage faced by women and help in breaking the cycles of poverty.

How You Can Help 

Human and Hope is seeking funding for the 574 families in Kaev Poar Commune who are disadvantaged and need help to feed their families and care for their children.

It costs $105 to support one family to achieve food security. If you are able to support us, please get in contact with our CEO, Sally Hetherington OAM, at sally@humanandhope.org.

Women and children in Cambodia are fighting hard to sustain their livelihoods and provide for their families in the wake of the pandemic and every little contribution helps us partner with them in their battle.


[1] https://www.oecd.org/dac/gender-development/46460668.pdf.

[2] https://grattan.edu.au/report/womens-work/,

[3] https://www.dfat.gov.au/sites/default/files/covid-response-plan-cambodia.pdf.

[4] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/cambodia/brief/monitoring-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-households-in-cambodia.

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/cambodia-china-trafficking-idUSL8N2IQ2MF.

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