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Fewer women to contest council seats in upcoming elections

Only 13.8 percent of the candidates in Sunday’s council elections are female, a drop of nearly half from commune polls held in 2003

 GENDER EQUITY

Cambodia has among the lowest ranking for gender equity in Asia, according to the UNDP’s Human Development Report. The political will to implement policies of gender equality is weak, and “social attitudes ... deem women to be of lower status”, the UN website says.

THE number of female candidates in the upcoming provincial, district and municipal council votes has decreased compared with previous polls, even though all four political parties running in Sunday's elections have previously committed to encouraging women's participation in politics.

Only 1,177 of the 8,506 candidates - or about 13.8 percent - are female, according to Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee (NEC).

In 2008, 14.8 percent of the political candidates were female, but six years ago  female candidates represented 27 percent of the total, Tep Nytha said.

The Cambodian election monitor Comfrel , using this percentage of female candidates, released its predicted results earlier this year, saying that about 10 percent of the 3,235 seats will be held by women.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of the NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, said that having women representatives is important to making Cambodian culture more equitable.

"If you don't have women on the councils, how can you change the mindset of a patriarchal society?" she asked.

According to Comfrel's report, 94 percent of women voters in Kandal, Takeo and Kampong Thom provinces want more women to stand for election.

Many of the women in the Comfrel survey said that female leaders would be better able to solve problems of discrimination, violence, rape and human trafficking.

Ho Naun, a female parliamentarian for the ruling Cambodian People's Party, said Tuesday that the CPP's female candidates will become leaders and educators when they are elected, making it easier for men and women to communicate with each other in the political realm.

"If women become representatives  - from the local level to the highest level - they can help women in their work and solve their difficulties. Women are mothers and can forgive each other," Ho Naun said.

In its report, Comfrel said that 53 percent of voters in 2008 were female, but in Sunday's election, only commune councillors can vote, the majority of which are male.

Ros Sopheap said at the commune council level especially, there needed to be more women, as many councils do not have a single female participant.

"We have 52 percent of the population in Cambodia, but our level of representation is less than men," she said.

"If women have more a voice on the councils, men will see that [what women want] is important."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRISTOPHER SHAY

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