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By Sonket Sereyleak, Education and Gender Coordinator, Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia-COMFREL 

1. How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?

What is Male Champions?

Male champion is referred to those who are valued by people and well-known in the society as the whole such as prime minister, president, minister, decision-making position, independent analyst, reporter, speaker, and student…etc. More importantly, male champions is a role model focusing and supporting women’s political participation and social affairs.     

Even though Women’s rights to equal voice and participation in political life has a strong foundation of international commitments - from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the Beijing Platform for Actions and more recently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), women continue to be under-represented across every area of political life – including in political parties, being part of inclusive constitution-making processes, as candidates, elected representatives, voters, etc. As of June 2017, women make up only 23.4% of national parliamentarians, 7.9% head of state, and 5.2% head of government, and local level. I found that the number of women representatives is still low because of most of signatory countries do not implement convention and law as well as has not set up temporary special measures as an effective solution for promoting  and providing opportunities for women’s political participation.

For instance, Cambodia has not yet achieved equality of gender political empowerment, especially the representation of voters and elected officials. Currently, women make up only 19.51% of National parliamentarians and 16.76% commune councilors at local level and appointed officials are small amount. The low number of women and the main part of this issue stems from a lack of specific written policy, has not amended some articles of election laws for supporting and providing opportunities as a temporary measures for women to participate at all levels. This lack is a result of failure to achieve the goals set by the national development plans and failure to fulfill the national obligations in accord with the CEDAW, of which Cambodia has been a signatory since 1992. The government has failed to solve this issue by resisting the conservatism and culture that is marked by the lower value it place on women than men across society as a whole. Furthermore, poverty, discrimination and the lack of encouragement are obstacles to women gaining equality and benefiting from participation in political and social affairs.

Political activities are still in the narrow and there are challenges for women having an opportunity to stand as a candidate in the elections. Everything depends on volunteering of political parties, particularly political party leaders:

Financial Needs 

Beside of ability, popularity, level of commitment and established political background, some political parties contesting in elections raised concerns about the financial needs of the parties regarding candidate nomination. Therefore, the political parties required their members to contribute money dependent on their ranking in the party list.

Some parties mentioned that placing women candidates at the top of the party list and alternative candidates was difficult as they did not see females’ ability.

Discrimination during the candidate selection process

Discrimination against women occurred largely during the candidate selection process and nominee elections in the parties.

The most important factor is that women do not have sufficient funds to compete with their male counterparts in order to become a candidate and/or to stand at the top of the party lists, no matter how qualified they are. This is because women are generally less wealthy than their male counterparts and most of them hold positions lower than their male counterparts, which is why their income is generally lower. Women are more tight-fisted than their male counterparts in spending for political affairs due to factors of family, financial arrangement, and long-term consideration for the livelihood of their family as a priority.

Another factor found is the resistance for a female to run for the top of the candidate lists, when this would mean excluding their male counterparts. It is almost like a tradition and culture that the party leaders and members have always excessively focused on the appointment and nomination of male candidates without taking in consideration the participation of women. Therefore, the presence of women candidates at the top list lead to the loss of opportunities for some male candidates, and thereby causing discontent among the men for they have to share the power with their female counterparts.

Made prejudice and have stereotype

Some parties made prejudice or have stereotype that placing many female candidates at the top of the list would alienate many voters, citing prejudices common in Cambodian culture. Those political parties were of the opinion that efforts to increase their popularity and to promote their political platform would be enough.

Female candidates stand at constituencies where they were not expected to win

Some women refused to stand as a candidate while some other did so but were not elected because some parties asked female candidates to stand at constituencies which were not target areas; where they were not expected to win. For instance, a female candidate from CNRP explained that she was nominated by the party to stand as a candidate in Mondulkiri province which was not the target area of the party in contesting the election, so she eventually rejected the nomination.

“In Cambodia context, in order to get female candidates having the chance to be elected, the leaders of the political parties have to place female candidates at the capital or province constituency where their popularity is highest, to place them at target areas where the plan is to compete to win and placing women candidates at the top of their party lists.”

Lack of political commitment

There was decrease number of elected female representatives for the fifth legislature National Assembly and the fourth mandate Commune Council  due to the lack of political commitment from the parties, especially the parties with the highest potential and popularity, namely opposition party “Cambodian National Rescue Party-CNRP” and the ruling party “Cambodian People’s Party-CPP”.

“The funding need, requirements and entire problem by the political parties as well as all parties have no mechanisms in supporting and providing opportunities that is temporary affirmative actions to promote women’s participation in politics, such as having no clear written policy in party and election law are a huge barrier for women’s political participation, especially women candidates aiming to stand for elections which cause to Cambodia had failed its Cambodian Millennium Development Goals-CMDGs because the appointed officials and parliamentarians have the tendency to push forward the Government’s implementation in accord with their political party line”.

2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples.

Some special measures should be taken action by the men as leaders:

  • Set up specific written policy as a temporary special measures and amend some articles of Election Laws by using Quota system or Sandwich system in term of has no it yet. But in term of some countries already had, it has to effectively enforce policy or law. If all these happen, the number of women elected officials and appointed officials will be increased. 
  • Monitoring on policy and law enforcement. 
  • Inspiring women and girls to participate in politics and decision-making level.  
  • Lobbying other men and male champions to support and encourage women. 

Men as husbands, partners, fathers, sons, and other family members as well as citizens

support women’s role in politics and decision-making in Cambodia: 

Actually, Discrimination against female commune councilors continued to exist although there was some decrease in the number of recorded incidents. In reality, the male commune/sangkat councilors still discriminate, don’t cooperate and criticize female councilors. By comparison with 2014, the rate of discrimination decreased from 19.35% in 2014 to 12.19% in 2015. In an interview with Mrs. Chea Sokhom, a Domrey Chhonkla, CPP commune councilor, she said that “the male commune councilors seemed not to cooperate with and still discriminate against the female because they think that the female’s capacity and understanding are limited.” 

However, the result of interview showed that 82.92% of male commune councilors supported, encouraged and changed their behavior. They seemed to value them as important partners who are just as capable as their male counterparts. In addition, they use their capacity, confidence and bravery to express their opinion in the work place and meetings although challenges remain. Their tasks and opinions served the women’s and children’s interests. Meanwhile, Women Commune/Sangkat Councillors are starting to use their powers or influence. 

Performance and idea of women most are concerned on women’s and children’s issues as the core issue while many men and social perception are now starting to change their attitude towards to credit women status because they understand that women’s participation is the fundamental important, especially the women’s participation in any decision-making with a strong support from their family members, neighbors, friends and citizens which is deemed as necessary as the catalyst to strengthen and encourage more active participation of women [1].

3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies? 

  • Lobbying and convincing male champions to support and provide opportunities for women to stand for elections and for decision-making at all levels by creating affirmative action and laws/election laws and its effective implementation. 
  • Male-female networks and strongly work together in promoting women’s participation in politics and in decision-making bodies. Some activities should be done such as trainings, big campaign, radio talkback, dialogues, meeting, raising awareness of people on social media, public forum…etc. 
  • Talking about the importance of male champions’ involvement to support women’s political participation and encouraging them by giving some awards and announcing to the public about their role model. 
  • Ending of all forms of discrimination against women and girls 
  • Some norms and traditional perceptions have to be eliminated as it looks like stereotype that is barrier for women’s participation in political decision-making and social affairs.  

4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)? 

  • Loss male’s positions 
  • Sharing their (male) power to women 
  • The male champions will not be supported and satisfied by other males/male friends. 

5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women's political participation?  Please share any initiatives or good practices that you are aware of. 

  • Talking about the importance of male champions’ involvement to support women’s political participation and encouraging them by giving some awards and announcing to the public about their role model. 
  • Raising awareness of Gender Concept and Gender Equality, Gender Sensitive and the importance of women’s political participation and decision-making…etc 
  • Cooperating with one another about how to foster and strengthen women’s political decision-making bodies.

[1]

COMFREL’s Political Gender Watch Report: Assembly and Women Parliamentarians’ and Empowerment

of Women Commune Councilors in their performance at local levels

 

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