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Sexist traditions a hurdle for region’s female leaders

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi (left), who advocated for the ADB women leaders conference to be held in Cambodia, conducts a government meeting earlier this year.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi (left), who advocated for the ADB women leaders conference to be held in Cambodia, conducts a government meeting earlier this year. Pha Lina

Sexist traditions a hurdle for region’s female leaders

Government ministries bound by sexist traditions and a lack of support are keeping women officials across Asia from implementing their ideas, female leaders gathered for a four-day seminar in Phnom Penh said yesterday.

The Asian Development Bank-sponsored seminar drew 25 women from 16 countries, most of whom have leading roles in finance, planning and infrastructure ministries. The participants said that working together to share experience will help women overcome disrespect.

“In every country, we have the same common problems with gender leadership,” said Saykham Thammanosouth, a director of the division for the advancement of women in the Lao PDR. “If you want to go be the leader, you need to be 10 times better than [the men].”

According to the ADB, women occupy 15 per cent or less of decision-making positions around the world. In Asia and the Pacific, the problem is particularly acute due to traditional views on women’s roles, according to Malarmathy Gangatharan, a director-general of the national planning department in Sri Lanka.

“We’re always working with the men, but culturally, they keep us in second place,” she said.

Sonomi Tanaka, a gender equality technical adviser at ADB who organised the event, said that while there are many women leadership training programs from the private sector, there are few for government officials in the region.

The seminar, which wraps on Thursday, is in its second year. After attending the inaugural edition in Seoul, Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodian minister of women’s affairs, said she pushed hard for the seminar to be held in Cambodia.

“The purpose of the event fits well with Cambodia’s emphasis on building a critical mass of women leaders and decision-makers at all levels of government,” she said.

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