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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - After shift, still few women in NA

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi speaks in Phnom Penh in 2012.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi speaks in Phnom Penh in 2012. Rights groups have called for greater focus on gender equality in the government. PHA LINA

After shift, still few women in NA

The number of women serving as lawmakers in the next mandate has dropped from last term, even after parties made final adjustments that saw more women moved up into key positions.

According to official results released by the National Election Committee on Sunday, women will hold 25 of 123 seats, or 20.3 per cent, compared with 22 per cent in the previous mandate. Before the adjustments were made, only 13 per cent (16 out of 123 seats) appeared to have won seats.

The upward tick is primarily because of the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party shifting the ranking of candidates on its lists. The ruling party will have 18 of 68 seats (26 per cent) held by women compared with 21 of 90 (23 per cent) in the last mandate. The opposition, however, has only seven out of 55 (12.7 per cent) women – just one more than last term, when six of 29 (20.6 per cent) held seats.

While the decrease in female parliamentarians is small, just two seats less, it demonstrates an urgent need for concrete governmental action, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said yesterday.

Less than two months ago, the CPP promised to appoint one female secretary of state and one female undersecretary of state to each government ministry if it won the national election.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi acknowledged in an email on August 7 that further improvements in gender equality were necessary.

“Reducing gender disparities in representation of women in decision-making and politics” are necessary to meeting Cambodia’s targeted Millennium Development goals, Kantha Phavi wrote.

Several newly elected female lawmakers declined to comment on the continuing gender disparity.

“This is an issue for both parties and most certainly for the country at large. This is not an issue the CNRP is running away from,” women’s rights advocate and opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said. Sochua pointed to CNRP member Ly Sreyvina, re-elected to one of 12 seats in Phnom Penh, as one example of a woman successfully balancing a medical profession and a career as an assembly member.

But rights groups and analysts said such gains were far from sufficient

The loss of seats for women in the context of July’s election is “disheartening” and a trend that should have been the reverse, according to Peter Taeko, independent analyst and Cambodia scholar for think tank Global Strategy Asia.

“Despite a vocal and explicit effort by key Cambodian stakeholders, we’ve seen an inverse relationship between progressive measures to institute more women in positions of power and opportunities for them,” he wrote in an email.

NDI senior director Laura Thornton characterised the kingdom’s provincial candidate lists as “not open”, in comparison to other democratic governments, because Cambodian voters don’t determine the number of women occupying provincial candidate lists.

“A massive loss of seats … will certainly impact female representation but that can also be determined by where on the provincial list the women’s names are ranked,” she said, citing Kampong Cham’s candidate list – which originally listed five women in the running but only one, CPP lawmaker Chem Savay, gained a seat – as an example.

Thornton emphasised this could be the result of women dropping out, being forced out or simply not making the final cut.

The latest election results indicate that Cambodia is unlikely to reach the Millennium goal to achieve 30 per cent of women’s representation at the national level by 2015.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA AND ROSA ELLEN

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