As decentralisation reforms move ahead, women's groups are seizing the chance to press for greater representation
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua gives a speech at a rally after the July 27 election.
A COALITION of women's rights groups has requested that the government introduce gender quotas as a means of increasing women's participation in politics, according to a statement released Monday by Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC).
The statement calls for the creation of gender-based clauses in the Organic Law, passed April 1, which guides the Kingdom's devolution of decision-making power to the local level.
"Women's organisations and NGOs are concerned that the Organic Law does not make any provision that guarantees women's representation in decision-making positions," it said.
Thida Kus, executive director of local NGO Silaka, is quoted as saying that "all articles of the Organic Law ... should clearly require political parties to place women candidates on the top of candidate lists", which she described as "an effective strategy to bring more women into decision-making positions".
Among its recommendations, the statement says one woman should be appointed for every two men on local councils, and that if a man is the head of an office, a woman should be appointed as his deputy.
GADC Executive Director Ros Sopheap said the Organic Law had been targeted because of its emphasis on decentralisation. "When we talk about decentralisation, we need to talk about power relations and decision-making," she said. "We are giving more power to communities ... and if [we] don't highlight women's needs, [the law] will not provide for women."
Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Pov Savoeun said that all political parties supported the involvement of women in politics. "No party opposes giving women access to government positions," she said. "The CPP now has women holding power from the local level to the top, including a deputy prime minister."
If we don't high-light women's needs, the law will not provide for women.
Mu Sochua, deputy secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, agreed quotas were necessary to secure the advancement of women in Cambodian society, but said party politics could skew the goal of equality.
"The government should make appointments according to the capabilities of the women and not according to their political affiliations," she said. "That could divide women, and it should be avoided at all costs."
In response to suggestions a gender quota might replace men with less-qualified women, Ros Sopheap said there were plenty of qualified women.
"It doesn't mean we need to take out men and put in women. But if we see a man retire, we can replace him with a woman of the same ability and qualifications," she said.
"We need to think deeper about getting women involved," Ros Sopheap said.
"We need to build from the beginning."