Government Rolls Out Ambitious Plan to Put Women in Leadership

An ambitious initiative to increase the number of women in government positions by establishing quotas was announced on Thursday, including plans to replace retiring men with women, provide child care services and create mentorship programs for women.

“We all recognize that when women hold management positions, there will be progress,” said Sok Sothy, director of the policy analysis and development division at the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD), which created the initiative with the interior and women’s affairs ministries.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany attend an International Women’s Day event in Phnom Penh on March, photograph posted to his Facebook page.

“We need to have commitment…to identify the number of females to put them in place,” he said.

At least 20 percent of provincial leadership positions should be held by women by the end of next year, as well as 25 percent of top jobs at the district level, the policy says.

It gives quotas for “management” roles, including the positions of provincial governor, deputy governor and administrative director, ministry officials said during a launch event at the Sokha Phnom Penh hotel on Thursday.

According to NCDD data, women held just 12.1 percent of provincial leadership roles and 21.5 percent of district management positions as of last June. Nationwide, only one province is currently governed by a woman, with Mithona Phouthorng taking the helm in Koh Kong last month.

Chhuk Monny, undersecretary of state at the Civil Service Ministry, lauded the plans, but said there would be plenty of barriers to overcome—including male ego. Women with less work experience would likely be eclipsing them in order to meet the quotas, he said.

“They can be appointed, but for males we need some time to not be jealous…. But females have the priority,” he said.

Neither Women’s Affairs Ministry spokesman Phon Puthborey nor Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could be reached for comment.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of gender equality group Gender and Development Cambodia, was skeptical about the new policy.

It was merely “lip service,” she said, because the government employed too few women to have enough female candidates applicable to fill the quotas.

“A plan is a plan and policy is policy, but we’ve never seen that the plan and policy have been achieved so far,” Ms. Sopheap said, citing a drop in the number of female commune chiefs and councilors elected in last month’s commune elections compared to the last election cycle.

She added that commune and district leaders would not be experienced enough to take on provincial-level leadership roles, she said.

“They need to find someone near this position,” but there are no female options, Ms. Sopheap said. “Where can you find the women to be appointed?”

She also questioned what would happen if provinces missed the quotas.

“If there is no achievement, what is the punishment…. What is the response back that ‘you missed this commitment?’” she said.

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