Political parties and government officials must work harder to promote women in politics if they want to shrink the gender gap in local and national government, according to a report released by local election monitor COMFREL on Tuesday.
The report, Politics of Gender and Providing Political Power to Women, finds that a lack of political determination continues to hinder the empowerment of women in the political arena.
Based on research conducted in Kampong Speu, Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh in December, researchers found that women hold 22 percent of the seats in the National Assembly and constitute 20 percent of elected officials at the commune level as a result of the 2008 elections.
The report said there are 169 female deputy governors serving at the district and commune levels nationwide, and 12 percent of city, district, commune and provincial councillors are women.
The training of female candidates and elected officials is key.
In addition, each province has one female provincial deputy governor, a result of a directive by Hun Sen.
The report’s main suggestion is to place female candidates in the top positions on party lists in the 2012 commune elections and 2013 national elections, echoing statements made at the Gender Forum last November.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua said Cambodia’s proportional representative system presents an opportunity to advance women but this depends on the party’s candidate list.
Unless women are listed as number one or two on party lists, the mere inclusion of a percentage of women on a candidate list will not result in the political advancement of women.
“The training of female candidates and elected officials is key if we are committed to a real investment in female politicians,” she said.
“They need to know how to speak in public, for instance. They need a true commitment from their party once in office.”
She added: “Women must be willing to challenge the party platform if it is against the interest of women.”
COMFREL’s research found that 18.2 percent of female commune officials faced discrimination at work, but provides no further details.
Mu Sochua said that, at the commune level, female officials are often relegated to the women and social affairs committee, whereas the key committees on infrastructure and security are led by men.
Cheam Yeap, senior lawmaker of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the government has shown leadership on the issue of gender equality in government.
“The CPP has made progress in promoting women in politics. Women in our party hold positions such as deputy prime minister, minister, secretary of state and others at lower levels.”
While the political party is seen as the primary agent for promoting female politicians, no party has an established policy on gender in politics, the report said.
The report also states that while 53 percent of Cambodian women are registered to vote, 220,000 women registered in 2008 were unable to vote either because election officials would not allow them to, or a lack of information prevented them from voting.