Despite laws that give women equal rights to participate in politics, traditional gender norms and unequal economic opportunities often leave women at the bottom of the candidate list in local elections, according to new research from the Victoria University of Wellington.
“Gender norms and gender stereotypes have been deeply rooted in Cambodian society, and these have influenced and restricted women’s choices of economic, social and political roles,” writes Cambodian scholar Sokunthea Koy, after conducting field research on political participation in Prey Veng province. “Women in Cambodia are still under-represented in politics even though political structures and laws are apparently gender neutral.”
Candidates placed higher on a party’s list are more likely to receive commune chief spots and councillor roles, which are awarded proportionately. However, a lack of educational and economic opportunities often precludes women from landing these top spots, Koy says.
This year, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has 6,045 female candidates out of 27,086, or about 22 percent. But according to CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, only 108 women will occupy the number one spot on their commune’s list putting them in the running for just under 11 percent of the Kingdom’s 1,646 commune chief positions.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has 4,063 women out of 25,304 candidates (about 16 percent) running this June. They are at the top of the list in just 90 communes – or just over 5 percent – according to deputy opposition leader Mu Sochua.
And even though there are thousands of women running in the commune elections, there is no guarantee a large number will win. Only 95 women were elected as commune chiefs in the 2012 commune elections, according to a re-port by election watchdog Comfrel.
What’s more, traditional gender norms and rigid concepts of masculinity also keep women out of politics. Many Cambodians see politicians as embodying traits considered typically masculine, such as strength, bravery and dominance.
Given the importance placed on identity in what Koy characterises as Cambodia’s mix of authoritarianism and democracy, citizens’ perception of females as lacking these traits can have a large impact on their vote.
As such, Koy concluded that legislation allowing equal participation in the absence of changing gender norms is insufficient to increase the number of women in office.
According to Sochua, though the CNRP is actively encouraging women to run for office, “social attitudes [are] not in favour of women in politics”.