Voters Question Candidates on Women’s Rights in Cambodia

Hundreds of voters came together at Phnom Penh’s Himawari Hotel on Wednesday to ask candidates running in July’s national election what they will do to protect the country’s women and girls and ensure their equal rights.

Candidates for Funcinpec and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) attended the event, while the CPP, which failed to turn out to a similar event focusing on land rights and corruption held last week, once again declined invitations to attend, according to Thida Khus, the chair of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics, which organized the event.

Members of the audience, made up mostly of women, pressed the lawmakers on how they would address issues including the migration of maids to Malaysia, violence against women and education.

“The government has a policy to eliminate illiteracy. But girls who have not even finished school have to drop out and work in a garment factory,” said Ly Ly Kimheang from Kompong Cham province.

“How will you, both parties, solve this problem of school drop­outs?” she asked.

Funcinpec representative Phan Sothy promised that his party would work to keep girls in school and encourage women to stay in Cambodia rather than seek mi­grant work abroad.

CNRP candidate Mu Sochua said that her party would devote at least 20 percent of the national budget to education, up from less than 10 percent this year, and launch a program to give 50,000 scholarships to women to pursue degrees in higher education.

Although Cambodia aimed to have 30 percent of senior political positions filled by women by 2015, only 18 percent of candidates for this year’s election are women. The CNRP is putting forward just 12 women for 123 National Assembly seats.

Ms. Khus said that the scarcity of women in politics is a result of a lack of investment in the education of girls and failure to implement policies necessary to level the playing field in a patriarchal society.

“You need affirmative action,” she said.

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