Only two women are among the National Assembly’s 55 new lawmakers, leaving the already heavily male body even more bereft of female representation following the redistribution of seats belonging to the CNRP.
After this month’s dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the nation’s largest opposition party – 44 of its 55 seats were given to Funcinpec, the Cambodian Nationality Party, and the Khmer Economic Development Party – parties which together gained less than 5 percent of the vote in 2013, compared to the CNRP’s 44 percent. The 11 remaining seats were given to the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party after two other minor parties refused to accept them.
Prior to the reshuffle, the number of women was already low among the opposition: a mere seven. Now, the number has dropped even further, with Funcinpec’s Kang Boran and the CPP’s Khong Sun Eng the only two women in the new class of inductees.
Before the redistribution, almost 20 percent of the 123-seat parliament was female. Now women account for just over 15 percent. The drop in the nonruling faction is even greater: from 12.72 percent to 2.3 percent.
Thida Khus, executive director of women’s rights NGO Silaka, said it came as no surprise that few women were selected. “It’s a disaster for women representation,” she said.
Khus noted that the Sustainable Development Goals, which Cambodia had signed on to, envisaged equal political representations by 2030 – a goal she said now seems even further out of reach. Moreover, she expressed concerns about a potentially greater decrease when the CNRP’s commune-level positions are redistributed, which is due to happen soon.
Other women’s rights activists declined to comment, either citing fear of repercussion in the currently tense political climate, or arguing that the National Assembly itself was entirely illegitimate following the CNRP’s dissolution.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said his party had no choice but to select mostly male candidates, as it was bound by its 2013 election candidate lists. Still, he said, it wasn’t a big issue. “I think among the CPP lawmakers there are 24 percent who are female lawmakers,” he said.
Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin offered the same reason for selecting so few females, while also noting that the party – which has declined sharply in popularity since the 1990s – was struggling to find enough people to fill the seats as it was. He did acknowledge that low female representation was a problem.
“We see that women representation is important, but at this time Funcinpec . . . has many difficulties . . . [and] it’s hard to find women in leadership,” he said.
But Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said that even women who reached high-ranking positions were undermined by their male colleagues. One of the only high-ranking female Funcinpec members, for example, had told her that men “dominated decision-making”.
“She said it was really hard to challenge them . . . And if she sees that her voice is not strong enough, it’s difficult [to keep going],” she said.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta