Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rights of Women to participate in Politics in Cambodia

Course: Human Rights and World Politics
Topic: Rights of Women to participate in Politics in Cambodia
Prepared by: Kray Sokkanha
ID: 03136
Submitted: Prof. Stan Starygin
Date: August 29, 2007

All human being were born in the same nature, they are all have the same rights such as right to life, rights to liberty and rights pursuit of happiness and these rights also give to both men and women in the society. In the past, men were considered as strong persons and became a leader to dominate the country and the god provided the power to the king as well. However, women have no rights to do anything in the society beside look after the baby and house. Because of the tradition and culture that provides the value to the man and thought that man can do things better than woman. But in reality, both of them need to dependence on each other and both of them can not miss one the other. Even man brave and stronger than woman but sometimes they still need woman to help or work with in order to reach a good decision. Therefore, what do women can do besides working in the house? How can they achieve their goals and participate in political role?

Before demonstrate these questions, we should understand the word gender fist, “Gender refers to the socialized roles of men and women in society. Gender refers to expectations placed on people because they are either male or female”.(1) Cambodia was the ancient country which history said that women are unable to responsibility and became a leadership to develop the country. If women want, they need a specific support from the society or until to reach the equality between women and men. At the same time, the state seems to ignore the present of women in state. It means that women have no capacity or ability to work in the political institution.
By the way, tradition plays a significant role in gender differently. Old traditions, customs and life styles have produced of discriminatory attitudes against women. The Khmer ancient said that, “men are gold and women are cloth” it should be clear to understand these biases. For example, most families never take care about the women’s action and goal, they pay more attentions on the men by encourage and support him to study and work. Their parents did not allow women went to school or got any knowledge because they believed that women can not become a leader. If the families have both son and daughter, so their parents will give opportunities to the son went to school and daughter stay at home to do housework. Many Cambodian families believed that promoting girls’ education would not be getting any benefits to the family since daughters would carry out housework even if they have completed higher education. Traditions have taught women to obey their husbands even if women earn money for the family. Moreover, many Cambodian families consider daughters as an important in performing housework at home. Thus, work outside such as involvement in politics, social action and culture are not allowed and highly discouraged for the women. These traditions and beliefs remain strong.(2)

In addition, Cambodia is an empire ordered society with traditional cultural attitudes and nature norms which discriminate against women and girls in the case of limiting their choices and options. Women with gender differ in term of literacy, education, employment, and women in the professions and government. Although the equal rights of women are formally public in the Cambodian Constitution, but they still are not sufficiently protection and enforced by the law in the view of power. Furthermore, women have very limited rights in practices and other specific problems relating to gender. Women have rights only when the legal position provided to them and women can have power until society eliminate gender inequality and violence against women in Cambodia. In the other way, Cambodian society provides the general pattern of the gender relation in Southeast Asia to the women in the case of family matters; inherit wealth and property on equal rights to the man heirs. Women are group to have dominant position from the family which reflected by the man, a head of the family. The tasks of the women are take care of the household finances, making decision on expenditure, investment, debt and especially look after the family’s interest. Thus, the roles of couples, men are expected to earn the wages to look after the family, while women are expected to take care children and property in the family.

Women developed in the economic side have not the same in politics. The high forms of political roles for women are rare in Cambodia, it can occur when they have a job of male spouses or fathers. In the political view, women are agree to the man hierarchy rather than active and participatory by themselves. But behind the scenes, women are regard as intruders who interfere in their husbands’ decision in the political affairs. Women’s political roles have been largely confined to the shadows, and they thought that the political action seem to be like mothers or wives to increase the status and access to power of the male members of their families. Women have rarely become political leaders in their own right. This model can be seen in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Burma and the Philippines, where Aung San Suu Kyi gained political prominence through the legacy of her father Aung San, and where Imelda Marcos shared infamy with President Marcos, who made her governor of Manila.(3)

On the other hand, in the Khmer political realm, a woman’s authority is determined by her relative relationships with male power. For examples, wives of male leaders are considered as special powerful, and they are expected to act in the interests of the family. For instant, Lon Nol’s first wife had the reputation of exercising considerable influence over her husband’s decision. She has a name and power by her husband, and she was respected by the Cambodian Republican elite, but after she died in 1969, the Lon Nol’s political issued became decline. According to observers predicted to Lon Nol that, as long as his wife lived, everything would go well for him, but after his wife died everything become trouble and difficult. So, even women did not join political in practice but they regard as the adviser of their husband and sometimes women have good views than the men. The other women example is about that most of the king’s decisions are suppose to his wife. Like Pol Pot’s first wife name Khieu Ponnary is regard as Pol Pot’s adviser. However, political historians know little about these political important women who have operated behind the scenes.(4) It means that even women can not work in the political place but she still can help her husband behind the back like the example above. Therefore, women were also a part of influence on political sense and these can affected to her husband decision making even she did not do by herself but she stays behind these problems.

Because of the evolution and development of women from time to time and from one generation to new generation, women are known by the society. Women more interested when the present of the UNTAC arrived in Cambodia in 1993. UNTAC emphasized that the rights to vote is a basic human right and that one is free to one's vote for the person of one's choice. Nobody can influence that decision. It mean that everyone both male and female have their own rights to vote to choose their representation. No one can violence the other rights. By this time human rights groups were active in the country and had large human rights educational programmes. It was an opportunity for the women's movement to cooperate with the human rights organizations and strengthen the campaign to establish a democratic system of government. Today we have an action plan for this women's movement to improve the training of women leaders, activists and volunteers to strengthen the women's network from the simple people to the top all over the country and the world.
In present, women have more opportunities than in the past because most of them can go to school, work outside the house and can do something that they want without against to the tradition and culture. At the same time, The Cambodia Constitution also provides the rights of women the same to the men. Example, according to the article35 of Constitution said that “both citizen genders have the rights to participate in all activities which involve to the political, economic, social issue and culture of country”. Moreover, in the article 45 said that “men and women have the same rights in all the fields and cases especially in the session of marriage and family”.(5) The other things that good for women now, they are promoting to work in the government institution and encourage by society. Just look at some example related to women participate in the political below. For instant, Ms. Yok Khoan Ung, director of the training unit of Khemara, the purpose of this NGO focus on the development of women in Cambodia since 1992. She was very excited to be at the Congress for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics. After the invasion of the communists in the country from 1979 to 1992, she escaped from country to the West border. The life of living there, she was elected to be the President of the Khmer Women Association in the Refugees Camp at the Thai-Khmer border from 1982 to 1992 where she worked on women's issues. She had a good cooperation and assistance from the United Nations to provide and implement many kinds of programs of basic vocational skill training, women, adult, health and child education, and social services to the refugee women. From 1990 up to present, she was also selected to be a member of the Executive Bureau of a political party named LDP which stands for Liberal Democratic Party. She was working on opening up the mind of Khmer people, especially women, on democracy, human rights, women and children's rights and development in terms of rebuilding Cambodia. So, she was presented at the First Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics, held 21-23 June 1994 in Manila, Philippines.(6)

Now Cambodia has a liberal democracy, and it is time for women to demonstrate their role in political and social life. Many of them are successful in their jobs. Many others hold a high position in the government or the national assembly. For example, Mrs.Ung Vathana, 40, who is Number 3 on the FUNCINPEC candidate list in her commune. Before she was a vegetable grower and seller, she said that at first she did not want to stand for election, but she had experience as a school administrator in the 1980s and she listened to the arguments of her husband and others people said that she would be a good leader if she agree to stand for election. She also has received some training by Women for Prosperity and then she decides to stand for election. She told that, if she is a commune chief, she will help the women because only women who understand their own problems. She will prevent all kinds of violence. On the other hand, for Mrs. Keang Siphan, 42, a Number 4 candidate from CPP, has been working as deputy chief of the Sambourmeas Commune, Kompong Cham. She said, she decided to stand for election because she wants to help women in her villages, especially widows. Thirty percent of our people are widows. If she is elected, she will help them to help themselves without depending on the men.(7)

Although a small number of women work as chief in commune, hold seats in the National Assembly or positions in ministries, so, the commune elections will be the first real opportunity for women to compete with men and they can show their abilities in politics and public affairs. Among 11, 292 of women are in the top five positions of their parties' candidates’ lists, so it is certain that there will be women sitting on many commune councils. There are 184 women stand in number 1 position, so it is possible that some commune chiefs will be women.(8) Moreover, women candidates have many different levels of education and experiences. Like men candidates, many do not know a lot about decentralization, which will take much power over commune affairs away from the national government and put it in the hands of the commune councils. But Women for Prosperity and other NGOs have been training the women candidates in decentralization and other topics about governing. Many leaders believe that it is time for women to take their rights and get opportunity to share their knowledge in place among Cambodia’s leaders.

In conclusion, we can see that before women can not work involve to the government institution besides working in the house but because of war in the country and the effort of the women that is why they can achieve their goal and now most of women working in political institution like working in ministries and organizations. Although, women weaker than men some parts but some of other they look cleaver than the men in solving the problem. Furthermore, women tried hard to demand their rights and move themselves to participate in the political without depend on the men, they can support life by themselve without need help from men. Since the government provides opportunity to the women to join and work in government place, women have a chance to show up their ability and express their idea with contribute the knowledge to the other women in the society. As we know now women participate in politic a lot and in the future, most of them would be a leader of the country as well. Thus, women should try more in order to become a good leader in country and raise up the ability to show the society that women can do everything as men and sometimes do better than men as well.

1.The Status of Women in Cambodia, at (Last visited Aug 24, 2007).
2.Law and Regulation, at (last visited Aug 24, 2007).
3.Kate Frieson, Women, Power and politic in Cambodia, at (Last modified June 2001).
5.Constitution of Cambodia book (1993-2004), Khmer Institute of Democracy in 1999, pp:35-45
6.Yok Khoan Ung, The Cambodian Women's Experience, at (last modified Oct. 20, 1999).
7.Vanthanouvong Manila and Linda Sak, Women moving toward power, at (last visited Aug 24, 2007).

4.Constitution of Cambodia book (1993-2004).


sothearith keo said...

Hi, Kanha after i read your paper i noticed something on it. Actually, your paper is good enough to understand. You tried to illustrated women's inferiority in politics. It is good too when you mentioned about gender based-issues to make your paper more interesting. I like your proverb "Men are gold and women are cloth." It would be better if you could explain this more clearly. Anyway, i still don't see solutions that you gave in your paper to help women get out of this discrimination.
This is all i have for you, and may you have a good time with my VCDs i gave you. Good luck!

Stan Starygin said...



This is a pretty good paper. I like the layout and the phrasing. It fairly addresses the issue declared in the topic, however, you seem to have spent a little too much time on the examples of empowerment of women, rather than discussing the host of rights that pertain to women's participation in politics in Cambodia and examining the scope of their protection. The footnotes are good as they conform to the standard of the Bluebook of Uniform Citation.