Cambodia has made strides in increasing the number of women in the Parliament in recent years but a redoubling of efforts will be necessary if it is to achieve its target to have 30 percent women in the legislature as set by the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals.
Senior Cambodia government officials and lawmakers joined UN representatives and experts in making the call at the workshop titled “Achieving MDG 3 by 2015” which was held in Phnom Penh on 8 September. Taking stock of the progress over the past 15 years in bringing women into law-making bodies, the participants, who also included representatives of civil society organisations, explored special temporary measures that may be needed to realize the objective by the 2015 target year.
“Women make up 52 percent of Cambodia's population, and yet represent only 13 percent of the seats in the Senate and 21 percent in the National Assembly. Without adequate representation, women's voices are simply not being heard,” Mr. Douglas Broderick, UN Resident Coordinator, said in his speech at the workshop.
“Far more important to achieving MDG3 will be mobilizing the political will and commitment to bring more women into the political arena. By supporting and training women candidates, by mentoring women who are Members of Parliament, by coaching women in the government at all levels, we can ensure that women's voices are heard,” he said.
Cambodia's National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, has 123 seats. Women's representation increased on average 2 percent every five years for the three elections between 1993 and 2003. That number went up to 12 percent in the 2008 election. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the upper house, women hold 8 of the 61 seats, representing only 13 percent, below both the global and regional averages. Before the MDG 2015 deadline, both Houses will be required to increase the number of female lawmakers by 9 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Time is crucial as both Houses have only one election cycle left in which to fill the gap. The next Senate election is in 2012 and the National Assembly in 2013.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia has been taking steps to increase to the maximum proportion of women's participation in all levels of national institutions,” H.E. Men Sam An said in her opening remarks at the workshop. “However, more concerted efforts are required to address the remaining challenges.”
Members of parliament from Viet Nam, Timor-Leste, and Lao PDR shared their own experiences with progress and challenges in ensuring adequate women's political representation in their legislative bodies. Two leading political science professors from Sweden and South Korea also discussed the use of special temporary measures as a means of increasing female political representation in their respective countries.
“Half of the countries in the world now have temporary special measures, something that only happened over the last 10-15 years. Interestingly, these measures are both controversial and popular,” said Prof. Drude Dahlerup from Stockholm University. “The global experience has shown us that temporary measures need to be adapted to each country."
H.E Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women's Affairs, said that despite gains made Cambodian women continue to face entrenched barriers to their political participation, and levels of their representation remain low. She said barriers include the persistence of cultural norms and attitudes, which discourage against women having a leading role in public life and disparities in access to education.
“The burden of domestic responsibilities, a lack of financial and family support, and a negative perception of politics among women deter them from standing for office,” she said. “Women in national and local offices must be provided with the space and means needed to be equal partners in the political decision-making.”
To give a new momentum to MDG 3, the UN Secretary-General recently created UN Women agency to consolidate and strengthen the UN's gender policies and work globally. The aim is to enable the UN to mobilize significant financial resources and technical expertise to support the global achievement of MDG 3.
Mr. Broderick, the UN Resident Coordinator, said gender continued to be a pillar and crosscutting issue of focus for the work of all UN agencies in Cambodia in the next five years. He also noted that CMDG 3 might fall into the off-track category unless gender-based domestic violence is tackled aggressively.