In anticipation of the upcoming elections, the opposition CNRP has worked to prepare more than 500 women for roles in local government, in a push for equality within the party and to bolster women’s rights in Cambodia, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said at a workshop on Wednesday.
Yet some of the more ambitious proposals that have been suggested to promote women within the party—such as quotas stipulating a minimum number of female candidates—have been put on hold out of fear that such moves could cost votes, she said.
Women playing leading roles in protests and grassroots movements since the 2013 national election has sparked a party-wide awareness of their political potential, but many women were still unprepared for such roles, she said.
“Even if we want quotas, the capacity of the women is not at the level that voters can vote for our women,” Ms. Sochua said.
“Who’s going to lose?” she asked. “Not just the women, but we’ll lose that chance for the women as well as the party.”
Instead, the opposition is focused on “realistic” goals for women, she said at the party’s headquarters on the sidelines of a workshop for 22 promising female leaders, who were selected from local-level training sessions nationwide.
“We have to reduce the barriers as much as possible,” she said.
In February 2015, the CNRP launched a three-year training program in which women interested in politics can receive training in public speaking, social media, advocacy and campaign techniques. So far, 520 have participated, Ms. Sochua said.
On top of the training, qualified women will be given priority as candidates in the 2017 commune and 2018 national elections, she said.
While recruiting educated women with a passion for politics remains a struggle, largely due to social inertia and fear of discrimination, the party still expects an increase in female representation in the coming elections, said Kun Lum Ang, head of the party’s women’s wing.
“We have seen that today’s women at the local level have faced many challenges,” she said. “First, the biggest problem is the problem of livelihood, making her hesitant to come out, and second is discrimination that makes her fearful.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said women already had a respected role in Cambodian politics and that the opposition’s plans were a cynical scheme to win support.
“They don’t do it; they just do lip service. No action at all,” he said.
“The women’s issues we committed to already, as a party. The deputy prime minister is a woman,” he said, referring to CPP stalwart Men Sam An. “We have a number of women in governance within the CPP party.”
However, Thida Khus, head of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics, said current political tension was inhibiting the few women already in positions of power from making progress on women’s rights.
The number of women in politics has increased, she said, “but in terms of quality of representation and work on policy to protect women, we are not yet quite
This inactivity is largely due to “aggressive” leaders forcing women to toe their party lines rather than push new policies, according to Kuol Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“The current situation, the political environment, does not provide space for women to do their work effectively,” he said.
Cambodian politicians “are very aggressive and everything is about muscle and military. They’re not about reason,” he said. Women, however, “can inform voters why it’s important not to follow the ‘fear campaign’ and the [political] environment, but more on the issues, on the policy, on the needs of the people.”
For Horn Chroep, who joined on Wednesday’s workshop and plans to run as a first-time candidate for commune chief in Tbong Khmum province, fear is no concern.
“In my community, local villagers have suffered a lot of issues, such as land grabbing by Chinese companies and powerful tycoons,” she said. “That’s why I am standing as a candidate for the upcoming commune election, hoping to resolve the issues for local residents.”