Hun Sen pledges to bring more women into top government roles

Women from the Boeung Chhouk land dispute community in Phnom Penh hold an International Women's Day event yesterday, where they called on authorities not to use violence against female demonstrators.
Women from the Boeung Chhouk land dispute community in Phnom Penh hold an International Women's Day event yesterday, where they called on authorities not to use violence against female demonstrators. Pha Lina

In celebration of International Women’s Rights Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to nominate more female secretaries and undersecretaries of state if he were given another mandate while chiding his ministers for not having hired more women officials.

“I request to prepare for all institutions . . . please look at this in order to promote our women,” he said.

He then dismissed a stereotype that women lacked decision-making skills, asking: “If we do not give them work, how can they make a decision?”

But at an event at the Cambodia Labour Confederation with some 300 participants, Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Chak Sopheap said much more initiative was needed.

“I notice the number of women in the government increases, but the increasing number is still small compared to that of men,” she said. “If we want real participation, it is a must to make a reform to this point.”

Sonket Sereyleak, of election monitor Comfrel, called for the government to appoint women to head at least 30 percent of ministries.

“We should have more female ministers, not only at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs,” she said.

Currently, women head just three of the nearly 30 ministries, one of which is the Women’s Affairs Ministry. The culture and National Assembly-Senate relations and inspection ministries are the other two.
Mu Sochua, former opposition deputy leader, said that the appointment of more women ministers was “way overdue” and a 30 percent initial quota should be set by a decree. “Then the PM doesn’t have to scold his ministers every 8 March,” she said by message.

The premier also sent letters on Tuesday to three prominent women exhorting the capabilities of women to prevent “revolution”, a common government refrain amid the forced dissolution of the opposition and a clampdown on NGOs and independent media.

The recipients, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk; Ou San, the wife of Senate head Say Chhum; and Sai Ty, the wife of National Assembly President Heng Samrin, were all called on to help women come together to fight so-called “colour revolution”.

“Women unite together to prevent any activities in the ambition to overthrow the legal royal government that was created through the election and destroy the Constitution through the colour revolution,” the letter reads.

Comfrel’s Sereyleak laughed at the suggestion that such a concern would be a priority for the country’s women.

“In Cambodia? I think there is no colour revolution in Cambodia, so women don’t need to fight a colour revolution . . . But women must fight to get their rights, fight to get their power,” she said.

One young woman fighting for her rights is 18-year-old football player Mengchou Muyleang, who spoke to The Post yesterday during a break in a football match between her team, Phnom Penh Crown, and the Battambang Mighty Girls, organised by NGOs under the umbrella Women Are Gold.

Muyleang said she had ignored admonitions from men not to play. “Because when I play under the sun, or the rain, [and] use lots of energy, [they say] it impacts my body and that when I marry and have a baby it won’t be healthy,” she said. “But this concept can’t stop me from playing sports.”