Women Candidates Struggle for Equality

Nearly 20 percent of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party’s candidates for the upcoming local elections are female—more than any other party. But it’s not enough for the women’s wing of the party.

“We are still not happy,” opposition parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura said at a rally Saturday. The percentage of female candidates is “far away from any kind of goal we would like.”

Women constitute only five percent of the party’s candidates listed first on the ballot and only 10 percent of its candidates listed first, second or third, Tioulong Saumura said.

In the Feb 3 commune elections, the first in Cambodia’s history, voters will cast ballots for parties, which will earn council seats based on the proportion of votes they garner. Seats will go to each party’s candidates in the order they are listed on its slate.

Many of the 76 female first-position opposition candidates gathered at Saturday’s rally. Pum Hoeun, the top-listed Sam Rainsy candidate in her commune in Kompong Cham province, said six men beat her and her adolescent son with sticks last week.

“Since then, I have heard rumors. People are saying, ‘This is what happens to a woman who wants to stand for commune chief,’” Pum Hoeun said.

According to party officials, it was the first case of alleged intimidation directed at a female candidate this election season. As many as 11 candidates and activists have been killed and others have been assaulted recently in what human rights groups have labeled acts of political intimidation.

Other candidates at Saturday’s rally said they had been ridiculed by local authorities for having the temerity to run for office. But all voiced determination to fight.

“I love the Sam Rainsy Party more than my husband,” said Pou An, the top-listed candidate on the ballot in her commune in Prey Veng province. “I can always find another man, but I can’t divorce the Sam Rainsy Party, because I would never find another party that believes in democracy.”

Tioulong Saumura, the wife of Sam Rainsy, said women do much of the party’s grassroots labor, but make up only 25 percent of its steering committee.

“In the March 1997 grenade attack, the number of men and women who died was [nearly] equal. When it comes to danger and dying for what we believe, men and women are equal,” she said. “So why are we not equal in our ability to lead? It’s a shame in a party that fights for social justice.”

She was referring to the March 30, 1997, grenade attack on a Sam Rainsy rally in which at least 17 people were killed.

and more than 150 injured.

 

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