In Phnom Penh, Women Politicians Rally Against the Odds

More than 600 women government officials yesterday joined together in Phnom Penh for the first time in an effort to combat the marginalization of women in politics.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng called on more women to make decisions in provincial and local politics. “The government is committed to promoting and practicing political policy to promote gender equality,” Mr Kheng said at the opening.

Female members of district and provincial authorities met for a two-day forum organized by the Ministries of Interior and Women Affairs.

Women make up just 21 percent of the National Assembly, 4 percent of commune chiefs elected in 2007 and 11 percent of municipal, district, provincial and khan council representatives elected in 2009.

Women trying to enter politics still struggle against discrimination, limited education, high family responsibilities, lack of financial support and their own low confidence, said Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi, one of the country’s two female ministers.

“This is the first meeting, a big gathering, in order to assess the needs and obstacles facing them,” Ms Kantha Phavi added on the sidelines, noting that bridges would hopefully be built between national and sub-national levels.

Mu Sochua, SRP lawmaker and former women’s affairs minister, said that despite a growing number of women in politics, the government had not invested enough in education to increase their participation. “The point is not just to increase numbers, but the quality of leaders,” Ms Sochua said.

Wenny Kusuma, country director for UN women’s agency Unifem, said that Cambodia is a model country regarding institutional provisions to bring women into the political sphere. “On the other hand, women now are not present in critical numbers to influence outcomes,” Ms Kusuma said. Throughout the workforce women do not often hold decision-making positions, she said. “If we ask where are the women, they are not at the top.”

During the forum, Mr Kheng stressed that government officials must work together to enforce all laws to promote women’s interests. “If we are not careful to protect women and children, it will be very dangerous for their security.”


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