Cambodian women make up less than 3 percent of the military’s upper echelons, the ministries of defence and women’s affairs confirmed yesterday.
Just 88 women hold ranks of one-star general and above, with one solitary woman ranked a four-star general and a deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. There are an estimated 3,000 generals, at least, in Cambodia’s top-heavy military, meaning women make up just 2.9 percent of RCAF’s upper ranks at best.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs said there were seven female lieutenant generals, 19 major generals and 61 brigadier generals.
At an event leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, Defence Minister Tea Banh urged the military to promote women to higher ranks, describing them as “the backbone of economy and society” and as “an indispensable power” in developing the country.
But he also told military women to uphold the “traditional value” of Khmer women. “Female soldiers must continue to maintain the tradition and dignity of Cambodian women in order to improve the social morality, women’s value and the Khmer family forever,” he said.
Gender and Development for Cambodia Executive Director Ros Sopheap said such language normally translated to women staying at home, not “making noise”, raising children and taking care of their husbands – apparently at odds with commanding roles in the military.
“The military is opposite to that culture,” Sopheap said, adding that women needed to be given equal opportunities in education and training to secure military positions.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said there were a total of 6,500 women in the defence forces, but maintained he did not know the total number of troops or percentage of women.
“We still need to promote them. We need women in the military,” Socheat said.