T HE "women's touch" in Cambodia's National Assembly is - by their own admission
- a very gentle one.
Sometimes, the reason is just to let the men show
"As women we traditionally understand male psychology," said Som Kim
Suor, CPP's woman MP from Kampot, "... sometimes Khmer men want to show off
and... and show [themselves] brave".
There are seven elected women MPs,
three from the CPP and four from Funcinpec. They are not seekers of headlines,
nor do they speak up much during public debate, and generally prefer following
the Party line.
BLDP MP Son Chhay said of his women peers: "The character
of Khmer women is a gentle one."
"That is not to say it is bad but in
political affairs sometimes [that tradition] is too nice, too gentle and they
cannot fulfill their duty."
Traditionally, Chhay said, Khmer women's
shyness could seem to show a "lack of confidence".
"I believe when they
increase their confidence, they will work more effectively and seriously than
men MPs," he said.
Kim Suor, 42, a member of the Commission on Human
Rights and Reception of Complaints - who incidentally cited Prime Minister Hun
Sen as her "hero", said: "It's a psychology, men like to show their
"We know some Khmer men want to show that they are
brilliant," said the Editor-in-Chief of the official CPP newspaper and mother of
"We give them the chance to speak. Sometimes women exchange
ideas with men and also explain to foreign experts who help the Assembly's work
because we understand things differently," Kim Suor said.
we speak [the men] think it shows weakness [on their part] to support us, so it
is a habit [of women to be quiet]," she said.
"Sometimes Khmer men want
to show off... Some of those men are in the National Assembly, especially
overseas men," she said.
Som Kanitha, 49, the vice secretary of the Human
Rights commission and one of Funcinpec's two women MPs from Phnom Penh (Prak
Chanta is the other), said that though women MPs did not voice their views
during Parliamentary sessions, they suggested a lot of ideas
Some male MPs waited for the women's ideas before deciding their
conclusions, she added.
"If we speak alone and no one supports us, there
is no majority, so it may be better not to speak," said the mother of
Kanitha said women have quite a lot of feelings different from
men. A brave politician could be defeated by accepting a bribe, but women never
accept bribes, she said.
Men Sam An (CPP, Svey Rieng), Vice President on
the Public Health, Social Works and Women's Affairs committee, said: "The level
of expressing ideas isn't a shyness or pressure. I used to lead seminars
throughout the country. I used to get through to the government officials... I
used to hold a job to educate party officials, to educate the officials in the
Sam An - a high ranking official during the SoC regime
- said many decisions had already been discussed during inter-committee
"My committee leaves it to the committee head to speak because
we are all in prior agreement," she said.
Son Sobert, Second
Vice-President of the National Assembly, admired the performance of Cambodia's
women MPs, but said he was sorry that they did not speak so much.
Excellency Ky Lum Ang speaks the most and Her Excellency Som Kanitha sometimes
speaks, but the others are seen not to have much idea. Her Excellency Prak
Chantha sometimes speaks."
Sobert said there are one or two women MPs
from CPP who never speak at all and tended to follow one
However, he said their performance out of Parliament was good,
attending international conferences and seminars.
Sobert recognized that
the women spoke correctly according to the law and their ideas were often more
succinct than the men's who sometimes spoke too long.
Son Chhay said the
number of women MPs in the Sihanouk and Lon Nol times were similar to now, but
that women during those past times had more ideas than the women
He said he had been criticized by at least one woman MP as going
"beyond the limit" when he demanded the inclusion of better rights for women in
Nin Saphon (CPP, Takeo), the Vice-Chairman of the
Commission on Human Rights and Reception of Complaints, said sometimes women
spoke only when necessary.
The 48-year-old widow and mother of two, said
she was not afraid to speak because her job had involved her with men for ten
Kanitha agreed. "Myself, I seldom speak on other issues. I mostly
speak about the law," said Kanitha, who holds a law degree.
She said even
her party leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, always looked for consensus among
MPs for his ideas.
Over the Sam Rainsy issue, Kanitha said that according
to constitutional law, no one had the power to fire an MP, but according to the
electoral law, a party operating under the proportional vote system could.
Kim Sour said she supported the Assembly's declaration on Rainsy's
expulsion. "It is a party's sovereignty. We don't get involved. It is the
Funcinpec party's internal affair".
Most of them welcome the press law -
though Ky Lamang has spoken out publicly against it. Kanitha said it is better
to have it. It was a stable law that could nevertheless always be
Kim Suor, in praising the law, said: "It will limit the
cornerstone of the press power."
Prak Chantha, who has five children and
is presently a member of the Foreign Affairs and Information Committee, said her
goal was to push for women to have the same educational opportunities as men,
and that women should have equal employment opportunities.
whether Cambodia could one day have a woman Prime Minister, and whether it could
be one of them, Kanitha said: "I have no wish, but if people need me, I'll try
to increase my ability. I believe I can do the job successfully."
Suor said it would take a long time before this happened and that it would not
be her because "that is not my wish".
"To become Prime Minister one must
have lots of support and ability. A woman Prime Minister would mostly receive
influence from her husband's reputation."
Saphon said she has no wish for
such a top position. "It's better to give the position to a man who has high
talent in leading Cambodian society through hardship."
Sam An said: "I
have struggled more than 20 years, but I don't have a wish like this. Because I
find (myself) some points, some corners I am unable to jump into. If some woman
has all the abilities, I congratulate her because she will be my