The number of women in Cambodia’s parliament will have to grow faster than it has in the past three national elections if the country is to meet its obligations under the UN’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the UN announced yesterday.
And with one more round of elections to go before then, government and UN officials sounded cautiously optimistic about their chances during a gender equality workshop in the capital.
“I believe we can collectively achieve [the target on gender equality] in Cambodia,” said Douglas Broderick, UN resident coordinator. “But it will take tremendous effort from all of us.”
Gender equality is one of the eight UN-sponsored development targets Cambodia set for itself in 2003. The UN Development Program’s scorecard for Cambodia currently calls the goal “possible to achieve if some changes are made.”
A 2009 UNDP report, however, warned that the country was in danger of falling off track.
Whether Cambodia ultimately succeeds will depend–at least in part–on having 30 percent of its parliamentary seats filled by women by 2015. Currently women fill only 21 percent of the National Assembly’s 123 seats and eights of Senate’s 61 seats.
Getting to 30 percent, a UN statement said yesterday, will demand a nine percent gain in the Senate in 2011 and a 17 percent gain in the National Assembly in 2013. The best the Assembly has ever achieved was 12 percent in 2008, while the Senate has actually seen a steady decline since 1993.
“Backsliding is possible and we have seen backsliding around the world,” said Drude Dahlerup, a political science professor at Sweden’s Stockholm University and a guest speaker at the workshop.
She lauded Cambodia for striving to raise its number of female lawmakers and spoke in favor of setting legal quotas as in Rwanda, which now has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world at 56 percent.
She urged the audience to think of quotas not as discrimination against men, but as compensation for the country’s disadvantaged women.
Contacted after the workshop, SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann welcomed the suggestion.
“Our party has always supported the quota idea for elected office,” he said. “We cannot say what percent a quota [should set], but we want a quota for women in elected offices as high as possible.”
CPP lawmaker Chheam Yeap, however, also reached after the workshop, said the government had no current plans for a legally binding quota.
Mr Yeap noted the creation of a women’s association charged with sparking grassroots interest in politics among women under the guidance of Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, as one step toward achieving that.
At the workshop, Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi noted the gains Cambodian women have made in politics, including their steady gain of seats in the National Assembly.
Despite some “remarkable increases,” she conceded, political participation among Cambodia’s women remained admittedly “limited.”
“We need to have more women involved in politics at all levels,” she said.