Despite repeated vows by both of Cambodia’s major political parties to increase female representation, the number of female candidates elected in the Kingdom’s recently concluded commune elections actually decreased since they were last held in 2012.
“For years, women have been trying so hard, but the number is not growing – it’s even decreasing,” said Seng Reasey, of women’s rights NGO Silaka, visibly disappointed at a press conference yesterday.
In the June 4 election, a total of 1,940 women secured seats as commune chiefs, deputy chiefs or commune councillors – almost a hundred fewer than in the 2012 elections, in which 2,038 were elected.
Sonket Sereyleak, gender equality coordinator at election monitor Comfrel, recommended tackling the issue on two levels: first, by amending the election law to include gender equality provisions, and second, by having political parties adopt written internal policies that prescribed the number of female candidates.
“Sometimes people say it’s difficult to amend election laws, but laws can be amended quickly when there is political will,” she said.
Reasey agreed after the press conference.
“In the Cambodian political context, if they want to, they can amend laws in a day, a week or a month,” she said, pointing to the recent quick, albeit controversial, amendments to the Law on Political Parties.
“We need to promote equality in the written form, not only verbally,” Reasey said. “Otherwise we won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] of 25 percent [female political representation].”
In only seven provinces will more than 20 percent of commune councillors be women, while only one province – Pailin – reached the SDG, with 28.85 percent. Takeo and Tbong Khmum scored the lowest, with only 12.5 percent each.
Neither the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, nor the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party improved on their total percentages in any significant sense. The elected female candidates from the CPP make up just 21.33 percent of the total number of victorious candidates – a slight decrease from the 21.48 percent in 2012. For the CNRP, 11.04 percent of winning candidates were women, barely up from 11 percent in 2012.
However, Silaka’s Reasey said, at least the number of female commune chiefs had increased from 95 to 128.
Reasey said the drop in representation might discourage women. “If you see the negative trend, you ask yourself: ‘Is that a place for me?’” she said.
But CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua yesterday said the increase of female commune chiefs proved that their efforts “have borne fruit”.
Still, she said, “I’m unhappy with the overall achievement.”
She said adopting a written policy was difficult, because her colleagues, “especially older men”, were not willing to step down for younger candidates – “let alone women”, she said.
“But pushing too hard will antagonise the men and some women, so our strategy is to show that . . . we have made some positive gains,” she said.
Ministry of Women’s Affairs spokesperson Pon Puthborei declined to comment, and representatives of the CPP could not be reached yesterday.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an email that “it is no surprise to see these bitterly disappointing figures emerge”.
“Reports of political parties actively disempowering women candidates by pushing them down electoral lists [are] representative of the misogyny that permeates all facets of Cambodian society. Our political leaders should be promoting full gender equality, and not just [be] talking about it,” she said.
The Post reported last month that women were pushed down on the ballots to rankings where their election was more unlikely.
“Anything less than full gender equality is simply not good enough,” Sopheap said.