BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA
Cambodian leaders have joined UN officials and international and regional experts in calling for a redoubling of efforts to increase the number of women in the country’s legislative body to 30 percent, a target required to achieve the Millennium Development Goal by the target year of 2015.
The message was the focus of the “Workshop on Achieving MDG 3 by 2015” which was attended by senior members of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Members of the Cambodian Parliament, UN representatives, regional and international legislators and experts, and members of civil society organizations.
Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam On, said that Cambodian government has committed to improve women’s status and increase the number of women to participate in politics and leadership in all levels in the country.
“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. However, more concerted efforts are required to address the remaining challenges,” she said during opening remarks delivered to the “Workshop on Achieving MDG 3 by 2015” on September 8th in Phnom Penh.
The Deputy Prime Minister stated that the Royal Government of Cambodia under the wisdom leadership of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen has considered that women are the back bone of Cambodia’s economy and national society. They are the value treasure in the process of national development in Cambodia.
“The Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said that women are the back bone and value treasure of Cambodia. Help women are helping yourself,” she said. “This is the attention and expression made by Cambodian government leader toward women who are 53 percent representing in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” she added.
To increase the number of women in the country’s legislative body as well as to participate in social developments, the government will continue its hard works in improving women’s statue including gender gaps reduction, girls or youth students’ enrolment, reproductive, maternal reduction, and other women’s capacity building trainings, she emphasized.
Women now hold 27 of the 123 seats – or 21 percent in comparison to men – in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, she said, adding that their representation increased on average 2 percent every five years for the three elections between 1993 and 2003. The last election in 2008 saw that number go up to 12 percent.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, women hold 8 of the 61 seats, representing only 13 percent, below both the global and regional averages. Before the MDG 2015 deadline, the National Assembly and the Senate will be required to increase the number of female lawmakers by 9 percent and 17 percent, respectively. But time is of the essence 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.
Despite some progress, overall Cambodian women continue to face socio-economic disadvantages compared to their male counterparts. Gender parity in literacy for women aged 13-24 has almost been achieved but only a third of domestic violence victims will seek help. And five women die giving life everyday, she emphasized.
Mr. Douglas Broderick, UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia, said in his remarks at the workshop that to give new momentum to MDG 3, the UN Secretary-General recently created UN Women, an agency which is tasked with consolidating and strengthening the UN’s gender policies and work globally. The aim is to enable the UN to mobilise significant resources, both financial resources and technical expertise, to support the global achievement of MDG 3.
In Cambodia, he said, gender continues to be a pillar and cross-cutting issue of focus for the work of all UN agencies in the next five years. He also noted that MDG 3 might fall into the off-track category unless gender-based domestic violence is tackled aggressively.
“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,” he said.
He added that far more important to achieving MDG3 will be mobilising 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 Government at all levels, we can ensure that women’s voices are heard.
“I’m pleased that the Cambodian government has set a target to elect 30 percent women to the Parliament. The global experience has shown us that temporary measures need to be adapted to each country. 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.
Two leading political science professors from Sweden and South Korea discussed the use special temporary measures as a means of increasing female political representation in their respective countries. Members of Parliament from Vietnam, Timor-Leste, and Lao PDR also shared their own experiences with progress and challenges in ensuring adequate women’s political representation in their own countries.
The workshop was held as part of the “MDG3 Week” from 6-10 September with the support of UNDP and in collaboration with the Cambodian Parliament, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, UNIFEM, the UN Millennium Campaign, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Action Aid.