Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has landed in hot water with women’s rights activists after publicly questioning whether Prime Minister Hun Sen was being “weaker than a woman” by not calling for a new election like Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra in the face of popular protests.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 15,000 Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters in Siem Reap on Tuesday, Rainsy called on the premier to follow Yingluck’s lead.
“I appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and I ask one thing: Mr Hun Sen, don’t be weaker than a woman,” he said to cheers and laughter.
“He should look at our neighbouring country, there is a female prime minister in Thailand named Yingluck Shinawatra. Please be proud of [her]. People protested to demand that she resign from power and then she agreed to call a new election.”
Rainsy then asked the crowd: “Why is Hun Sen weaker than a woman?”
Following Rainsy’s lead, supporters began to chant “Hun Sen, step down, Hun Sen, step down. Don’t be weaker than a woman!”
Speaking to the Post yesterday, Rainsy said his comments were taken out of context.
“Hun Sen has more compelling reasons [than Yingluck] to step down, and he does not agree to step down. Therefore, he is much less courageous than a lady. So the merit of the lady is even higher because she is not compelled to step down legally and morally speaking,” he said.
“This is the comparison. Not a direct comparison between man and woman. It happens that the Thai prime minister is a lady so I refer to her as a lady.
“Of course, I am sorry for any misunderstanding but this kind of interpretation does not reflect my mind.”
Ros Sopheap, executive director of NGO Gender and Development Cambodia and deputy chair of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics, said she was “disappointed” by Rainsy’s words.
“I am really disappointed. He is the [opposition] leader. He shouldn’t say this, because there are men and there are women in this society. [Things you do] don’t mean you are weaker than a woman, because [that implies] that women are also weak,” she said.
Pok Nanda, executive director of Women for Prosperity, which trains women to stand for political office, called the comments a “political message”.
“We have strong women and we have weak women. He should not be comparing [in that way]. [But] maybe it’s just an expression,” she said.
“This gender comparison should not be addressed by anyone … when you compare men to women it reflects on you.”
CNRP public affairs head Mu Sochua, a well-known women’s rights advocate and former women’s affairs minister, said she did not believe Rainsy meant to imply that men were stronger than women.
“If I were not sure about how Mr Sam Rainsy feels about women, I would not be marching side-by-side with him,” she said.
Nonetheless, Sochua said that the comments by Rainsy were inappropriate.
“It is not appropriate to say at any time that a woman is weaker than a man.… I do not agree with what was said in Siem Reap as a woman. [Hun Sen and Yingluck] should not be compared in that way.”