Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women still underrepresented in politics

Women still underrepresented in politics

Young women attend a Cambodian People’s Party campaign rally in Kampong Speu last year. Newly obtained figures indicate the number of female commune councillors increased since the dissolution of the opposition party. Facebook
Young women attend a Cambodian People’s Party campaign rally in Kampong Speu last year. Newly obtained figures indicate the number of female commune councillors increased since the dissolution of the opposition party. Facebook

Women still underrepresented in politics

Following the redistribution of seats held by the now-dissolved opposition, female representation in local politics increased slightly but remains low, according to figures obtained this week, with women’s rights organisations demanding sustainable improvement rather than minor victories born of an otherwise regrettable situation.

Of the 58 newly elected senators – all of whom belong to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – only eight are women, compared to 10 in the last mandate.

After the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was forcibly dissolved amid international outcry in November, almost all of its 5,007 elected commune council seats were absorbed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. After the CPP filled the vacated seats, female representation rose by almost 20 percent, from 1,940 female commune chiefs and councillors to 2,323, according to unpublished National Election Committee numbers obtained on Sunday.

However, as an overall share of elected commune officials, the number remains stubbornly low, at about 20 percent. In 2012, there were 2,038 female councillors, for a share of around 14 percent.

What’s more, the number should potentially have been higher in the first place, with a number of female candidates in both major parties telling The Post prior to the commune elections that they had been pushed down the ballot list to make way for male candidates, making their election highly unlikely.

One of those was Thong Somoeurn, a candidate from the Cambodian People’s Party in Koki commune in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district. After being pushed down from her first position on the ballot despite winning an internal vote, she was only elected as a regular commune council member in the June election. When the CNRP was dissolved, however, she rose to deputy commune chief in charge of security and order in her district.

“Because the two CNRP officials from the commune resigned, I now jumped into this position,” she said.

Even so, however, she still fell short of the commune chief position she would have held had she remained in the first position.

Despite women’s modest gains following the redistribution, the number of female commune chiefs barely changed, from 128 to 130, for a total share of less than 8 percent.

Commune council officials line up outside a polling station in Phnom Penh’s Wat Phnom commune to cast their ballots in the Senate elections.
Commune council officials line up outside a polling station in Phnom Penh’s Wat Phnom commune to cast their ballots in the Senate elections.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development Cambodia, said male politicians’ mindsets had to be changed to include women from the start. Women, she said, were often only entrusted with low-ranking positions, but not those higher up in the list. These lower-ranked women were only given opportunities because the CNRP was dissolved, which was itself an unprecedented political development.
“We don’t want to wait for a chance, but we want to see proper opportunities for women,” she said.

Another female politician, Choung Saony, said she too failed to win a position in June, but has now been elevated to deputy commune chief in Kok Banteay commune, in Kampong Chhnang’s Rolea Ba’ier district.

“I am happy,” the 28-year-old said, adding that she didn’t care that she only got the position because the CNRP was dissolved “as long as I can engage for my commune’s development”.

Thida Khus, of women’s rights organisation Silaka, said the increase was important, especially on the local level, to represent interests of women and children, but noted there was also “less competition now, as it’s only the ruling party”.

And she pointed out that although the number had increased in the communes, it had decreased at the National Assembly, and potentially at the Senate, following the dissolution of the CNRP.

Indeed, according to figures released by the National Election Committee on Saturday, only eight out of the 58 newly elected senators are female, compared to 10 of the 57 senators elected during the last mandate. The Senate also has two members nominated by the King – one of whom is a woman in this mandate, compared to none in the last – and two more nominated directly by the National Assembly, which has yet to announce its nominees for the current mandate.

When the CNRP’s 55 National Assembly seats were redistributed last year, only two of its seats were given to women. Previously women had held seven.

Sonket Sereyleak, of election monitor Comfrel, welcomed the increase of women councillors, but acknowledged it was based on an unfortunate development.

“I’m unhappy with what happened relating to the dissolution of the CNRP, but our women’s group will still continue our journey to lobby and advocate . . . to promote women in decision-making,” she said.

Sereyleak also highlighted that a mere increase wasn’t enough. Many women in politics, she said, were cut off from the responsibilities and authority they would usually enjoy with their positions. “We worry about this,” she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures