Speech by H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi at the Advancing and Monitoring Workshop on Women’s Political Participation in ASEAN

Speech of the Minister of Women’s Affairs at the Advancing and Monitoring Wokrshop on Women’s Political Participation in ASEAN to Review Country Research Papers, 29-30 April, Siem Reap, Cambodia


Monitoring WorshopDistinguised delegates from Fellow ASEAN Committees of Women, Honored Ms Roberta Clarke, Regional Director from UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Workshop participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to have this opportunity to welcome you on behalf of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Cambodia to this Regional Workshop. The workshop is an important activity of the ASEAN Committee of Women project ‘Advancing and Monitoring Women’s Political Participation in the ASEAN Region’.

I notice from the workshop agenda that you will have intense workshop days. You will be discussing around a crucially important - but also difficult topic - how to move towards establishing an ASEAN framework to monitor and advance women’s participation and women’s voice in politics and in public decision making in the ASEAN region.

The need for achieving stronger and more systematic monitoring of women’s participation and women’s voice in the ASEAN region has been acknowledged for quite long, and it is therefore also one of several key projects that were proposed in the 2011-2015 five year work plan of the ASEAN Committee on Women.

The Cambodia Ministry of Women’s Affairs – took the initiative to draft a basic concept note and proposed to become the lead ASEAN member country for the project ‘Advancing and Monitoring Women’s Political Participation in the ASEAN Region’. The basic concept note from my Ministry was discussed and approved in principle during the 11th ACW meeting on 16th October 2012.

The Royal Government of Cambodia recognizes the important role of gender equality on Cambodia’s future development – and has taken steps to promote women’s representation in public decision making. Cambodia has made good progress over the past 15 years – with a steady increase in the numbers of women participating in the political arena and in public decision making – with strong increase achieved in the two directly elected bodies – the National Assembly at the national level and the Commune Councils at the sub-national level. Nevertheless, we have faced challenges in achieving our MDG targets for women’s representation.

There may be several reasons for the gap between the Cambodia MDG targets and our achievements. One possibility is, of course, that we were too optimistic about how much we could achieve in a rather short time, and therefore set too optimistic and not entirely realistic targets. There are many remaining obstacles working against the advancement of women in politics and public decision making. Such obstacles are in most cases deeply rooted in traditional social norms and cannot be directly addressed only by my Ministry.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs can only act as a catalyst and an advocate for encouraging change to overcome such deeply rooted obstacles. In this respect, we have experienced that we did not always have sufficiently strong and reliable evidence to back up our arguments in discussions with various stakeholders. We therefore experienced that we could not always advocate as strongly and as successfully as we wished for additional policy measures to even more strongly support women’s participation.

Over the years, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of having access to solid and systematic data in order to enhance our capacity to advocate for and encourage changes to overcome barriers and obstacles against women’s participation and voice in politics and public decision making.

It is within this context – from experiencing insufficient access to solid and systematic data to fully take opportunities to forcefully advocate for women’s political participation – that Cambodia took the initiative to lead this project. In Cambodia we have our own strong interest to achieve a stage in which access to information and data about changes in women’s voice and influence become more systematic than today - a stage in which data about positive or negative changes in underlying obstacles is regularly and systematically collected. With ASEAN aiming at having one ASEAN community established by 2015 – such systematic data collection is also increasingly needed at the regional level.

As I have already mentioned, the project is led by Cambodia Ministry of Women’s Affairs – but we would not have been able to progress this far without the strong support from UN Women Regional Office Bangkok and UN Women Country Office in Phnom Penh. UN Women provided financial and technical support to Ministry of Women’s Affairs to incorporate feedback provided by ASEAN partners and to finalize a full-scale project document. UN Women is now supporting the implementation of the project – for which I remain utterly thankful.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks to UN Women for their important and continuous support to my Ministry.

I remain equally thankful to ASEAN ACW partners for their active and enthusiastic participation in the implementation of the project. Only with active inputs and support from all ASEAN member states will it be possible to successfully achieve the intended result of the project – which in the medium term is that ASEAN as one community moves towards more systematically monitor women’s political participation, influence and voice. To do that we must better understand which are the most crucial gaps and barriers - and which are the measures that are within reach to address these obstacles and barriers.

The situation in each of our ASEAN member states is different – we therefore need to understand not one country situation but 10 country situations. It is only if we acknowledge our differences that we will be able to unite around one common ASEAN framework for how to monitor and advance women’s political participation and women’s voice in politics and public decision making.

During this workshop, findings and experiences from seven country level studies will be shared. I understand that each country study has been conducted by a national consultant from the respective ASEAN member state, and that each national consultant has been selected by the ACW representatives of each country. I believe the use of national expertise is a strength here as national expertise will have the deepest understanding of the complicated social norms which underlye obstacles and barriers to women’s participation in politics and public decision making.  

It is of course too early for me to say what will be the result from the sharing of the country level findings. I do however believe that it is reasonable to expect that there will be issues and factors which are common to all ASEAN member states, as well as issues and factors which may be of particular importance in only one or a few ASEAN member states. The challenge for you during this workshop will be to explore the possibility of consolidating the findings into what can possibly at a later stage become a framework for our ten ASEAN Member States.

I look forward with great interest to learning more about the discussions and the results from this regional workshop.

I would like to conclude my opening remarks by wishing you all fruitful discussions during the coming two days workshop!

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