Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that retiring deputy officials in government departments should not be replaced unless their successors are women.
Speaking to more than 600 female government officials on the second day of a forum organized by the ministries of Interior and of Women’s Affairs in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen explained that there was a surplus of deputy-level employees, but that if a suitable female replacement was found, she should be hired.
“The numbers are high…. Deputy of the department, deputy of offices or deputy director general are not needed to be appointed,” he said. “I would like to advise and encourage chiefs of institutions, if there are appointments of women to replace those who retire, I support them,” he said.
Urging officials to act on his words as soon as possible, the Prime Minister cited statistics showing a gradual rise in the number of female government officials and said he eventually hoped to see a government composed of at least 50 percent women across the board.
“The proportion of women elected in the National Assembly has gradually increased. In 1993 there was 5 percent, 11 percent in 1998, 19 percent in 2003 and 22 percent in 2008,” he said.
He emphasized that these appointments should invest the women with real power and responsibilities.
“If they are promoted, they must be entrusted with responsibility,” he said, adding that: “In some places, they are promoted as a symbol.”
According to Lim Mony, deputy director of the human rights group Adhoc’s Women’s and Children’s Rights Program, this is a crucial part of achieving meaningful gender equity in the government.
“We are very happy about the Prime Minister saying [there should be] one in two women in government,” she said yesterday. “But I don’t want the government to increase only the number without increasing the power.”
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua praised Mr Hun Sen’s words but expressed concerns that the benefits of increased gender equality could be lost in overzealous partisanship.
“I applaud that one hundred percent,” she said by telephone yesterday. “But [female CPP politicians] have not always been given full authority…to perform the way they want and respond to the needs of women because they are restricted to the party line.
“I will work with Hun Sen and will work with anybody so the dream of women can be achieved but I appeal to the government to drop partisanship to work for this aim.”
Wendy Kusuma, country director for the UN Development Fund for Women, said that Mr Hun Sen should be recognized for his leadership in this area.
“The fact that he institutionalized provisions to promote gender equality is pretty phenomenal,” she said. “We need to see increasing numbers of women in decision-making roles…. Men transfer skills to other men by mentoring each other, and we need to see that happening with women.”
Improving gender equality is one of the nine Millennium Development Goals Cambodia adopted in 2003.