In Cambodia, 53% of the eligible voters are women. However, the representation of women in the political arena remains low. Only 22% of the representatives are women in the fourth mandate (2007-2013) while only 16.8% are women commune councilors in the second mandate (2007-2012).
According to the UNDP’s Human Development Index of 2009, Cambodia ranks among the lowest in Asia in terms of gender empowerment—with a rating of 0.588 in the gender development index and 0.427 in the gender empowerment index. Efforts had been made to address the issue, particularly the imbalance of gender representation. Twenty-four women have been appointed as deputy governors in all 24 municipalities and provinces. Of the 185 districts/Khan, 169 women are vice-chief; 12% of women have been elected at the sub-national level while only 3% women are village chief. However, reform progress remain weak.
The persisting imbalance of gender representation and low participation of women in the political field is being attributed to the conservative traditional culture of Khmer society. Even those women already in position continue to face discrimination from their male colleagues. They are given little roles when it comes to decision-making. Moreover, women are forced to support men’s decisions instead of asserting their own interests in fear of losing their position. Mostly, they are given positions in sectors concerning childhood, women and social policies which is given little attention, little decision-making power and minimal budget. Therefore, they are not able to further develop skills needed for promotion unlike their male counterparts who have greater decision-making powers.
Furthermore, there is also the issue on poverty, illiteracy and lack of opportunities and encouragement for females to participate actively in the political arena. Education and health resources are among the differing issues between the rural and urban communities. Indigenous women could not run for a position because of the question of literacy. It is required by law that candidates must be able to speak and write Khmer which is being deprived from indigenous women, thus also depriving them of the right to be represented.
In addition, the government lacks commitment in establishing reforms in promoting gender empowerment and participation. The environment within political parties, in particular, must be encouraging for women to be able to participate actively since political parties serve as the gateway for women to gain positions in government.
Women’s organizations are working towards the development of women’s participation in politics and raising awareness for women’s rights. They have recognized the need for training those who participate in movements concerning women’s political empowerment.
Gender Policy and Women’s Political Empowerment in Cambodia. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Commitee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COmFREL): http://www.comfrel.org/eng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=475:gender-policy-and-womens-political-empowerment-in-cambodia&catid=144:2010-08-05-02-40-57&Itemid=1062.
Labani, S., Kaehler, C. Z., & Ruiz, P. d. (2008-2009). Gender analysis of women’s political participation in 7 South East Asian countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Vietnam. Enjambra.