By Tim Vutha, Sen Sopheara, Long Gheklourng
Striving to achieve more female representation and better balance is one of the world’s primary Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Any development without women’s involvement means only one voice is heard. To promote fair participation and gender equality, women need to be included in political advocacy.
This article examines Ros Dadanet’s Master’s Research Paper (MRP) at the University of Cambodia (UC) on the topic, “Obstacles of Women’s Political Participation.” She is a Master’s degree student majoring in Political Science at UC and recently completed her research paper.
The general objectives of her research project were to examine the obstacles preventing women’s involvement and empowerment in Cambodian politics; explore the factors that cause this underrepresentation and ineffective power; and seek peaceful measures to promote more interaction and empowerment for women acting in politics.
The research was conducted through informal interviews, formal interviews, background literature review and assessment. The research also included personal experiences as a Cambodian woman involved in the political process in order to assess the key problems. Ms. Dadanet has considerable professional experience with NGOs and other organizations and government bodies.
Lastly, a detailed questionnaire survey was conducted among a target population of educated university students to obtain both qualitative and quantitative feedback from the segment of the youth generation most likely to enhance women’s participation and empowerment in politics. The questionnaire survey sought opinions of the emerging political and professional generations because they are an important group of stakeholders who will have the opportunities and power to make significant changes.
“In Cambodian society, women do not have enough political power even though most women have enough ability and want to participate in political acts,” Ms. Dadanet stated.
Her goal is to find the hindrances, help resolve the problems, and motivate women to participate. This is not just good for women, but is also good for Cambodia.
She added that sometimes women are not self-motivated to join politics and they may need frequent external motivation. Because of many cultural norms, many Cambodian women (and men) do not think that women have the ‘natural characteristics’ to be successful in politics. She disagrees with this notion.
“Women have the same competency potential as men do to lead the country,” she emphasized.
Her reflection upon personal experiences and insights also initiated the research. She was a staff member at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide.
“Women also, by the unique nature of their experiences, need to take an active role in politics to achieve an overall completeness of political potential and perspective. Essentially, a strictly male dominated political arena will only achieve half of society’s goals at best,” Ms. Dadanet remarked.
When such imbalances occur at the political level, not all views of all stakeholders are considered and acted upon. Countries with more balanced male-female representation in politics tend to have a more mature and productive political atmosphere.
Dr. David Kyle Latinis, Dean of Research and Development and one of her Thesis Advisors, described Ms. Dadanet as a very intelligent and amicable person with intimate experience in social affairs, NGOs, the reality of politics, the conditions faced by women in regards to political participation, and the desires to make necessary changes.
“She is a very capable and knowledgeable person. She has deep insights and is able to gain honest opinions from others. People trust her with her sincerity,” Dr. Latinis said. “She is a good model in Cambodia, especially for female empowerment in politics.”
Dr. Latinis pointed out that the traditional concept toward women and education generally results in wives having equal or lower education than their husbands, and often with the idea that they are supposed to be less active in community matters and more active in domestic matters. Dr. Latinis also stated that this is nothing new to much of the world throughout history. Additionally, he noted that females are generally pulled from school earlier and start later than their male counterparts. Moreover, according to Dr. Latinis, young women have fewer opportunities for formal education and sons are often prioritized, further limiting the opportunities for females.
The amount of women present in other fields is more comparable to desired balances, whereas the amount of women in politics is very rare. Southeast Asia, in general, is not the lowest for female representation in politics by global comparison and there are very prominent female leaders and politicians in the region.
In some cases, feedback from respondents suggested that females also attempt to block other females from entering politics because they believe that with fewer females in competition for power, the females in a particular office or division can secure their positions. Essentially, some women may actively try to reduce the amount of female competition by discouragement or adding difficulties to female applicants.
However, Dr. Latinis is optimistic after seeing that more talented women are playing pivotal roles in politics and that the younger generation is eager to support gender equality.
“I think it is difficult for them, yet I think more women do want to be more involved despite foreseeing the challenges. There are very real social obstacles, so there should beproper mechanisms to encourage them,” said Dr. Latinis. “I think the government strongly encourages more participation, but more support, motivation and initiative are required from all aspects of civil society.”
According to the 2010 Draft Report of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in the Cambodian legislatives sector there are nine female senators out of 61 total positions,
and 26 female members of the National Assembly, which has 123 members. There
is one female Deputy Prime Minister, two female Ministers, 16 female Secretaries of State among 198 positions, and 31 female Under-Secretaries of State among 205 positions.
H.E. Dr. Ing Kanta Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, said at the annual ministerial stockpiling workshop on January 25 that the Government’s Rectangular Strategy Phase 2 regards women as society’s backbone.
“But to. . .[play the]. . .role as a strong backbone, women have to build up their capacity and competence to be qualified...[so they]. . .can answer society’s needs,” she said.
Ms. Tep Bora, Project Manager of Advocacy, Gender and Development in Cambodia Organization, stated that women should play vital roles in political decisions because they more accurately represent the voice of women in the country. Moreover, she continued, most violence in society is against vulnerable women and children, so women may be more adept in understanding those problems and helping to find solutions.
“Lack of political will from political parties to place women in the candidates’ lists, as well as work burdens, limited financial resources, and limited education are the obstacles preventing them [women] to fully participate in politics,” Bora said.
Finally, she recommends that Cambodian women increase their personal confidence and competency by pursuing their education and learning how to successfully access information.
They should also enhance their advocacy, management, and leadership skills.
Moreover, Bora added, institutions should work harder to cultivate an environment that promotes equality and transparency so that women are afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Source: UC Bulletin March, Page 30