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Cambodia Struggling With Goals for Women Empowerment

From left in front row, Cambodia's National Assembly President Heng Samrin, King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Royal Palace Kong Samol pose with the nation's lawmakers during a photo session in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. The Cambodian opposition boycotted the opening of parliament Monday over alleged widespread cheating in the July elections, putting the country's political crisis at a critical juncture. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The Cambodian government is struggling to reach a number of UN development goals, failing to substantially increase the number of women in legislature and local politics.

The government's commitment to increase the proportion of the number of women representatives in the National Assembly and Senate has failed. An increased numbers of women lawmakers is part of the country’s UN Millennium Developments Goals, to be completed by the end of this year.

In 2015, there are only 25 female members of the National Assembly, representing 20 percent of the legislature. This is not an improvement over 2003, when there were already 19 percent. And there are only nine women senators, representing 14.7 percent of the body. This is a minimal change compared with the ratio of 13 per cent in 2003.

Thida Khus, director of Silaka, which works on women’s issues and monitors the Millennium Development Goals, puts the blame on the government.

“Once we asked why this goal was set and cannot be achieved? This is because they did not have clear special means,” she said. “They just put it and are not serious about it. There are no equity measures to ensure that women have a role and have the opportunity to have been appointed as representatives of the people. We have up to 52 percent of women in our country, but the representation is only 20 percent now, and at the local level, we have 17.7 percent.”

Only 17.7 percent of commune council members are women. The government had pledged to increase the number to 25 percent this year, but in the end failed to do so.

Another failure is related to its efforts to promote women as ministers. Cambodia pledged to increase the number of women ministers to 15 percent, or four ministers, but failed to do so. Today, there are only three. Similarly, women with the positions of undersecretary of state number 44, representing 18.7 percent, just below the 20 percent target.

So far there are no female provincial governors, another failure. The goal had been to reach 10 percent by 2014, from zero in 2003.

Still, the numbers of some women officials has increased, including deputy governors, secretaries of state and women in the education sector.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Pavi said many challenges remain. “In the future, especially in the post-2015 development plan, Cambodia is committed to speeding up the completion of the Beijing Action Plan as part of sustainable development goals.”

Those include increasing the proportion of women members of the National Assembly from 20 percent to 30 percent, and in the Senate from 14.7 percent to 30 percent.

Ke Sovnnaroth, chair of the Health and Women’s Affairs Committee at the National Assembly, blames the government for the failure.

“We cannot achieve the goals unless the government is able to see the negative challenges facing the women in the country, concerning people’s mindsets, use of violence, intimidation, discrimination, and poverty reduction,” she said.

All of these dissuade women from joining politics, she said. That goes for both the ruling party and the opposition, though such detriments are greater for the opposition, she said.

Meanwhile, the government has also failed to implement equal pay between men and women. And it has failed to significantly reduce violence against women.