Take a guess at the proportion of women represented in political parties around the world. Most of us would underestimate the true figure: somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of party members globally are women. But that hides another more telling fact.
Less than 10 percent of the senior positions are held by women. As so often with the representation of women, the numbers are getting better but the exclusion from decision making remains.
Cambodia is no exception. And that’s true in the executive, legislative and judiciary systems in Cambodia. While Cambodia is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, meeting the required equal representation of both women and men in governance and civil service remains to be realised. A predominant hindrance is the stereotype of women’s roles in the public sphere.
UNDP has been working with the royal government of Cambodia over the past two decades towards advancing the rights of women and in promoting gender equality.
The government has taken concrete steps towards these, particularly in decision-making processes, in formulating policies and laws, and in developing national strategies and programs. Solutions have also been identified to address barriers to women’s inclusion.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, for instance, spearheaded and developed the Neary Ratanak IV, a five-year Strategic Plan for Gender Equality and Empowerment. It contains a policy framework on gender equality in the context of economic growth and access to social services, and the ministry’s framework of institutional strengthening.
In addition, the government’s commitment to enhance women’s participation in public decision-making is reflected in the Rectangular Strategy, the National Strategic Development Plan and the National Program for Sub-National Democratic Development.
As a result, we have seen significant progress including the rise in female representation in the National Assembly, which tripled from 6 to 20 percent from 1993 to 2013. The proportion of women in civil service also increased from 32 to 37 percent from 2007 to 2013. Moreover, the number of women in positions of deputy prime minister, minister, secretary of state and undersecretary of state increased.
Meanwhile, the proportion of women in the judiciary also rose in 2008, although women remain under-represented in all levels of judiciary.
At the local level, the percentage of female commune councillors rose from 15 percent in 2007 to almost 18 percent in 2012. However, men still hold the majority of decision-making positions. Out of more than 1,400 commune councillors, less than 100 women are elected as chiefs. There are currently no female governors.
A good place to start is in institutionalising gender equality within the party organisation before, during and after the election. In the pre-election period, the party leadership needs to establish a consensus to promote women’s participation in the electoral process. To attract women to join the party, incentives can be given such as the opportunity for capacity building or advocacy.
A voluntary quota for women candidates can be set and party finances can be earmarked. Strategic partnerships with civil society organizations are important to further the reach of women candidates, including support from men.
At this stage, it will also be useful to set targets for female participation in party conventions, establishing women’s sections within the parties and that gender is included in the party’s policies.
During the election, political parties need to ensure women’s visibility in the electoral campaign and that they are given access to media. Training women candidates can also prove useful especially in fundraising and communicating with voters.
Identifying social issues that are a priority for women in communities that the party advocates for can attract more women to register and cast their votes. It is also essential that women are trained and are part of the election monitoring.
Once elected, a gender action plan within the party will be important in promoting the participation of women in policy-making within the party, and will help facilitate gender-sensitive political reforms in government institutions.
In light of the coming local elections this year and the national election in 2018, we urge all participating political parties to adopt and implement policies and procedures that promote greater equality among women and men, particularly in decision-making structures, on political party lists and in funding the campaign of female candidates.
A political system that includes women – at the top as well as at the grass roots level – is one that better represents all Cambodians.
Nick Beresford is the country director of the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia.