Despite politics remaining a male-dominated affair, increasing numbers of women are being given senior positions within the government, with a female deputy PM in the cards
Minister of National Assembly Senate Relations Men Sam An is slated to become the first female deputy PM.
WOMEN are playing a more prominent role in Cambodian politics, according to women's rights activists and female politicians, even though the new fourth mandate of the National Assembly will again be a largely male affair.
Koul Panha, executive director for the Cambodian election monitor Comfrel, estimated that about 14 percent of the 123 seats in the incoming National Assembly will be taken by women, but was optimistic women were well placed to occupy any vacancies that might emerge.
"The last mandate [2003-08] started from 12 percent, but the number of seats held by women increased to about 20 percent by the end of the mandate ... because of reshuffles within the political parties," he said. "We see that [the results] are an encouraging start for women in the National Assembly," Koul Panha said.
On Monday, the Cambodian People's Party announced it had appointed women to deputy governor posts in 23 provinces. According to its draft list of government appointments, Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations Men Sam An is slated to become the nation's first female deputy prime minister.
Chou Bun Eng, director general for social development of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, who is poised for promotion to secretary of state in the Ministry of Interior, said recent government actions demonstrates its dedication to overturn gender stereotypes. "In Cambodian society, women have historically played less of a role than men, even within the family," she said. "We have always lacked a balance between men and women ... but the policy of the new government has been to encourage women to take on roles in government."
Chou Bun Eng said women were often better suited to deal with certain issues than male politicians. "When women become decision-makers, they can help to resolve many of the issues facing woman, such as domestic violence, human trafficking and other vulnerabilities," she said.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, a local women's rights group, agreed the government was starting to deliver on its promises to give more women access to power.
WE HAVE ALWAYS LACKED A BALANCE BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN.
"This represents a commitment by the government because men have held these positions for some time and now women are able to step in," she said, adding that the work of women's rights advocates was paying off. "I think they are trying to address pressures from civil society groups that have demanded improvements in women's rights," she said.
Ros Sopheap added that the CPP's landslide victory in the national election broadens the scope for women's involvement in running the country and that the party would benefit in turn. "[This decision] is also part of the party's political strategy," she said. "[But] because of the CPP's dominance, there is the possibility of the party giving more positions to women."
But SRP Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua, a former minister of women's affairs, told the Post that the CPP's female appointments were overshadowing the talented women who were not part of the ruling party's apparatus. "I am in favour of having more women in decision-making positions, but these should not be political appointments," she said. "These are positions within the government ... [so] there should be a process that is open and fair for the other women as well."
She added that women politicians should not be aiming only to "sit with the men at the top", but should consider how they can improve the lot of the majority of Cambodia's women. "In terms of running as candidates and in business, women are moving out of traditional roles, but I am worried about Cambodia's culture of violence and impunity, and the victims of violence and impunity are usually women," she said. "I don't doubt that they are working within the party to create change ... [but] I have been disappointed at the public response of senior politicians when women are the victims of injustice."