A new report by civil society organisations (CSOs) has revealed that 173 women made up 10.5 per cent of the total commune chiefs elected in the June 5 commune council elections, an increase of two per cent over the 2017 elections.

The report said that women made up a total of 22 per cent of the candidates who won seats on the Kingdom’s commune councils. These figures showed that women’s representation had barely changed from the 21.8 per cent elected in 2017.

There was an increase in the total number of female candidates who stood in this year’s elections, with 32.3 per cent of potential candidates being women. Just 27.2 per cent were women in 2017, said the report.

Among them, 599 female candidates stood as commune chiefs, equal to 10.8 per cent, an increase of three per cent on the 2017 figures.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) nominated 163 women as candidates for commune chief positions, which meant almost 10 per cent of its candidates were women. This was a slight increase on the 2017 figures.

The Candlelight party (formerly the Sam Rainsy Party) offered commune chief nominations to slightly fewer women, at 8.3 per cent of its nominees.

The remaining 15 smaller opposition parties nominated a higher proportion of women candidates, at nearly 20 per cent. In line with the prevailing trend, this was a small increase on previous elections.

Sonket Sereyleak, education and gender coordinator of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), said at a June 30 press conference that despite the increases, CSOs remain concerned about the large gap between female and male candidates. Gender inequality in politics remains an issue which needs to be addressed by all stakeholders, she added.

She said the issue persists due to the lack of political will of the parties. There are no written gender equality policies within the parties, meaning there are no specific provisions which support and provide opportunities for women to participate equally with men in politics, especially in running for office.

“Cultural and social norms which attach a negative mindset to promoting women’s leadership are at the root of the problem. They create barriers to the participation female politicians. The lack of a system that supports women does not encourage them to participate in politics,” she said.

In addition, women politicians still face many forms of discrimination. This continues despite the fact that women’s rights to participate are fully guaranteed by the Constitution, she added.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Som Sorida told The Post on June 30 that the NEC had no authority to amend a law which would require political parties to stand a certain number of female candidates.

The NEC welcomed the suggestion, but ultimately, the fielding of candidates was the responsibility of each individual party, he said.

Candlelight spokesman Thach Setha was unavailable for comment on June 30.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told The Post that the concerns raised by CSOs were endless, but the CPP had clear policies and was focused on building human resources, among both women and the youth. Both groups have important roles to play in developing Cambodian society, he said.

“Human resource building is not like planting mango trees and collecting the results in one or two years. They [CSOs] just say it but don’t know how to do it. There is no difficulty; we are training people to ensure they have the necessary skills, not just appointing them. More importantly, from one mandate to another, the number of women candidates has increased,” he said.