Members of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics review a poster which identifies the gender of candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Women have dropped from 28 percent of candidates for the National Assembly in 2003 to only 19 percent this year.
The number of women standing as candidates in next month’s general election remains disturbingly low and has even failed to climb above the level of other recent election cycles, according to a report from the non-governmental organization the Committee to Promote Women in Politics (CPWP).
“We see that the number of female parliamentary candidates from the various parties running in the national elections next month remains low. The gap between the numbers of male and female candidates is enormous,” said CPWP coordinator Chan Kunthea.
“Going by the parties’ own candidate lists, none of them is promoting women as candidates to compete in the general election and have a chance to join the leadership apparatus,” she said.
Women constituted 28 percent of leading and alternate candidates for the National Assembly in the 2003 elections but dropped to 19 percent in the upcoming vote, confirmed National Election Committee secretary general Tep Nytha.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has fielded a slate of 103 male candidates and only 20 female candidates, while just ten of Funcinpec’s 123 candidates are women. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party is fielding 106 men and only 17 women for National Assembly seats.
Not even the minor parties were making much headway, with the Norodom Ranariddh Party fielding 112 male candidates and 11 female candidates, while the Human Rights Party was running a slate of 117 men and six women.
“We’re issuing this report card to alert all the parties and let people know how many female candidates there are and which parties were promoting women for seats in the National Assembly,” Chan Kunthea said.
Only 19 percent of the current 123-member National Assembly were women, she noted.
“We need to have more women candidates because women make up 52 percent of the population of the country.”
National Assembly member Ho Non, a female CPP candidate for Kandal province, said the CPP was paying attention to women and has promoted them to leading positions in the Assembly and the government. It ran only 14 women in the 2003 elections, and its rosters now include 20 women candidates, she said.
Non agreed, however, that with women making up a majority of the voters, the party that fielded more qualified women candidates would attract votes.
Sam Rainsy Party deputy secretary general Mu Sochua said there were many impediments to women becoming parliamentary candidates.
Many highly educated women chose not to express their ideas in the political arena, and there were cultural factors discouraging their participation. However, the Sam Rainsy Party had a policy to promote women and women were on the top of the party’s lists in three provinces, Sochua said.
She also noted that candidates standing for election with the Sam Rainsy Party could face retaliation, including losing their positions in government or as teachers.
“The CPP offers more chances for women to be parliamentary candidates,” she said. “Anyone from the opposition party running for parliament faces oppression and firing by the ruling party.”
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha agreed that fewer women were running for the National Assembly because of oppression and intimidation and fear for their families.
“We have tried to recruit more female candidates, but it has been difficult because they are busy with family work and are not interested in politics or in trying to finance an election campaign,” said Chantha.