Promoting Women as Political Leaders

NGOs strive to increase the role of women in Cambodian politics ahead of June elections.
2012-03-01
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A panel of NGO officials speak on the role of women in politics at a conference in Phnom Penh, Feb. 29, 2012.
RFA

Cambodia’s political parties are set to increase the number of women candidates in commune elections in a bid to increase women participation in national politics, according to party officials.

Nongovernmental organizations have been making a push to increase the number of women running for office in upcoming commune polls ahead of a deadline this week set by the country’s election body for submission of a final list of candidates for the local elections.

On Wednesday, officials from 10 NGOs held an event in the capital Phnom Penh aimed at encouraging political parties and other stakeholders to promote women in leadership roles at the commune and district levels.

Cambodia’s National Election Committee requires the nation’s political parties to submit their list of candidates by Saturday for the June 3 commune polls. NGOs have said that they would like women’s representation in commune councils to nearly double to at least 25 percent in the upcoming vote.

Thida Khus, executive director of SILAKA, an agency that works as an intermediary between NGOs and the Cambodian government, said the process of involving more women in Cambodian politics has made steady progress, but that barriers still remain.

“Women must become more involved in politics. Today, women are facing many obstacles which prevent them from participating in politics,” she said.

“Political parties are now working to ease those obstacles to allow more women to ascend the political stage.”

Commune council candidates in Cambodia may not run as independents.

Election workshop

During the Wednesday workshop, officials said women leaders have proven to play a vital role in resolving issues in their communities.

They pointed to a study published by the Committee to Promote Women for Politics released late last year which found that communes with at least one female councilor are more likely to address problems affecting women and children more effectively.

Representatives from the Human Rights Party, the Sam Rainsy Party, the royalist Funcinpec Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party attended the conference and all pledged to increase the number of their women candidates for the upcoming commune election.

A representative from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party was invited to the conference, but did not attend.

Kim Nath Sim, a representative of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party said that during the previous commune election some 500 women were listed atop of voting lists, although she was unable to provide an estimate for the number of women candidates expected to participate in the June polls.

The Cambodian People’s Party currently has the most female commune councilors, followed by the Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party.

Women hold 22 percent of the seats in Cambodia’s National Assembly, or parliament, though their share of electoral posts is smaller at lower levels of government.

According to National Election Committee, more than nine million voters are registered to vote in this year’s commune elections.

An increasing role

Pok Nanda, executive director of Cambodian NGO Women for Prosperity told RFA last month that a network of20 NGOs are working to promote women in politics specifically for the June election.

“We are working with political party leaders who are participating in the elections. And we are encouraging citizens to vote for political parties that have women candidates on the top of their list,” she said.

Pok Nanda said that she hopes women will make up at least 30 percent of the total candidate and win 25 percent of the councilor posts.

“We want political parties to list women and men candidates in alternate order so that women will [stand an equal chance] of winning,” she said.

She said that eight percent of the councilors elected in the first commune election, held in 2002, were women and that the share had increased to 14 percent in the second election, held in 2007.

“We have observed that women have performed good jobs and built good relationship with their constituencies,” she said.

Of Cambodia’s 11,353 commune councilors elected in the 2007 polls, 1,662 were women.

There are 1,621 communes in Cambodia. Each commune council is composed of 5 to 11 members depending on demography and geography.

Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.