Days after submitting candidate lists for the June 4 commune elections, statistics from the National Election Committee show both major political parties failing to increase the number of women running for commune council seats across the country as compared with the 2012 ballot.
The dearth of women in politics was also the subject of International Women’s Day remarks by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who lamented the lack of a single female provincial governor across the country.
Having tallied the more than 88,000 candidates put forward across the country’s 1,646 communes, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea yesterday said the Cambodian People’s Party had 6,045 female candidates out of a total of 27,086 – or 22.3 percent. The figure was slightly below the 22.5 percent they had in 2012.
The CNRP, meanwhile, lagged behind with only 16 percent of its 25,304 candidates being women. During the last elections, the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party – which merged to form the CNRP after the 2012 commune elections – had higher female representation among their candidates, with 20.7 and 21.3 percent, respectively.
Reached yesterday, CNRP vice president Mu Sochua pointed out that the party had nominated 90 female commune chief candidates – a “big increase”, she said – and had tripled the number of women in “winning positions” – contenders ranked one through five on the election lists in each commune. Council seats are allocated based on the share of the vote won by each party, with higher-ranked candidates being awarded seats first.
Sochua added that she was unaware of the total number of women standing for commune council positions, and declined to comment further.
“We would like it to be more, but if you compare it to 2012 when we had 315 candidates ranked one to five, it has increased,” Sochua said.
While the party had tapped grassroots officials and trained hundreds of women candidates, including former garment workers and land grab victims, the recent political pressure on the party made it hard to convince women to stand for elections, she added.
CPP spokesman Sous Yara would only say that the party was looking to have women make up more than 25 percent of commune chief candidates, but did not give specific numbers. “We walk one step by one step, and it is a good development. We call this is a positive step,” Yara said.
Hun Sen, meanwhile, speaking at an event on Koh Pich marking International Women’s Day yesterday, pointed out to some 3,000 women from varying sectors that there were no women governors across the country’s 25 provinces, adding that he will direct Interior Minister Sar Kheng to find one or two female appointees.
“I met with Samdech Kralahom Sar Kheng to discuss and to choose a woman as provincial governor, because we have only men in these positions. If there are two women it will be better,” he said.
The Chhunhak, a deputy director for gender equality and economic development at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, supported the prime minister’s remarks, saying more women were needed in decision-making positions, but noting that the process was a slow one.
He attributed this to a lack of experienced female civil servants who could transition to senior positions. But given that the public workforce was now about 40 percent women, that could change soon, he added.
However, Gender and Development for Cambodia’s Ros Sopheap challenged that perspective, saying there were plenty of qualified women to take the reins of not just one province, but 10. “I appreciate to hear that he [Hun Sen] wants to see more women in leadership positions,” she said. “It is time to put theory in practice.”
She added that an increase in women politicians would benefit all parties and ensure that women’s rights – which are currently protected in policy, if not in practice – would actually be implemented.
Other Women’s Day celebrations included an event by workers union the Cambodian Labour Confederation, whose president, Ath Thorn, said an increase in the minimum wage and ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189 on protection of domestic workers would help enhance female worker protections.
This request was echoed by a statement released by a group of unions and labour rights NGOs, with the additional request to ratify Convention 183 on maternity protection.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANANTH BALIGA