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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women MPs content to let "boys be boys"

Women MPs content to let "boys be boys"

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

off.

"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

cleverness."

"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

two children.

"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.

"Sometimes when

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

outside.

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

three.

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

government line."

Sam An - a high ranking official during the SoC regime

- said many decisions had already been discussed during inter-committee

meetings.

"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.

"Her

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

another.

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

today.

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

the constitution.

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

years.

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

amended.

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.

When asked

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."

Kim

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

representative."

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