Cambodian women partner across political parties


Author: Veronika Stepkova


Photo: UN Women/Veronika Stepkova

The engaged and confident voices of more than sixty women reverberated around the conference room of a Phnom Penh hotel as they gathered to discuss politics. In a society where the traditional code of conduct Chbab Srey portrays women’s role as obedient and silent caretakers, this was an important event.

The women – local politicians from six Cambodian provinces – participated in a workshop organized as a part of ‘Empowering Women Leaders at Sub-National Level’ supported by UN Women's Fund for Gender Equality (FGE) and implemented by NGO SILAKA and the Committee to Promote Women in Politics (CPWP). They gathered disregard political affiliations to develop shared advocacy messages and policy-making skills.

According to data released in 2012, little over 17 percent of women serve in policy decision-making positions in Cambodian communes and sangkats (city districts). At the national level, the number of women in the National Assembly fell from 21 to 20 percent following the last elections in 2013, reflecting the difficulty Cambodian women face in maintaining previous gains.

While these numbers are not shocking – even in comparison with Western democracies that are considered advanced in their political dialogues – the problem of women’s under representation in decision-making has serious consequences. Issues such as sexual and reproductive health, women’s rights, lack of access to education for girls, human trafficking and violence against women are rarely addressed effectively in local administrations. Moreover, many measures further increase deeply entrenched inequalities by disregarding women’s needs and conditions.

The group of female political leaders meet regularly, to strengthen community acceptance and recognition of female leadership and change and improve the situation of women in their communes. The project also offers the women the opportunity to network with civil society organizations and women’s movements, through subnational to regional ASEAN level. Building on the success of sister group ‘Young Women’s Leadership Network’ – the only group in Cambodia able to organize a cross-party dialogue before the landmark elections of July 2013 – the female politicians network builds bridges between political parties and decision-makers at all levels.

“My father always wanted me to have a good education and he did everything for it. It was then my education which helped me to achieve goals that I set for myself and to support women in my community. Working as a provincial councilor of Kratie Province, I pay special attention to women affected by violence. I often walk from household to household or women come to see me and I listen to their stories and help them stand up for their rights,“ says HE Prak Chanton, one of most active participants of capacity-building workshops on women’s rights supported by UN Women.

HE Prak Chanton was first promoted to her position in 2011. She was the only one of nine siblings to finish both primary and secondary education, walking twenty kilometers a day to reach school in the first five years. HE Prak Chanton had a strong determination to make a change in her own life, and now she is helping other women in the villages of her commune. Working mostly with women survivors of violence, HE Prak Chanton believes that education can empower women and help them to work together to end violence.

“While education has helped me most, lack of education in women’s legal rights was also the greatest obstacle for me. I was then introduced to the CEDAW during a workshop and since then I keep using it to help women in my commune,” comments HE on her experience with helping women in her commune.


Veronika Stepkova is the Communication Officer for UN Women Cambodia. This story also published on the Phnom Penh Post as Reader's Letter: A stronger role for Cambodian women (archived)