Leadership positions for Cambodian women should be more than just number

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Koh Kong provincial governor Mithona Phouthorng. Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said early this month he wanted to see at least two women in top provincial leadership positions in the foreseeable future. Photo supplied

After reading your article published on March 12, “Calls for more women in leadership positions”, I was delighted to see such commitment to appoint at least two women to provincial leadership positions. Like many other Cambodian girls, I would want to be one of them too. However, I believe that it should be more than just achieving the quota. So, I would like to propose three actions.

Firstly, leadership figures should create an enabling environment for women to raise their ideas. Cambodian gender norms still uphold biased beliefs that women have less competency and may not be capable enough to speak in front of the public. Such a belief has perpetuated power imbalances for women in public offices. Creating an environment where women feel they are equally valued and their voices are important will encourage greater creativity and the development of more responsive solutions to challenges facing Cambodian communities.

Secondly, more mentoring opportunities, leadership, and other soft skills training should be provided to women and men. These are critical to increase collaboration, enhance leadership skills, and reduce gender biases that currently discourage male engagement in critical discussions about promoting gender equality. It requires strong political actions to ensure that women are able to access opportunities to meet their full potential, but not at the expense of their male counterparts.

Thirdly, our education system offers few role models for young girls to look up to. Within Cambodia’s classical literature studies, there is a small proportion of female role models compared to men. The disproportional portrayal of women and men in the education system has impacted on how young girls and boys view themselves in society. Therefore, the educational curriculum should be adjusted to address equitable gender roles and gender transformation where boys and girls view each other as equal partners. Furthermore, it is important that boys and girls are positively socialised on gender transformation as early as possible.

These are real challenges that present huge obstacles for me and other girls to be one of the women appointed to leadeship positions. But they are also great opportunities and I am hopeful of sharing the same belief as Minister Sar Kheng that “we can do it and it is not too difficult”. I think we have seen enough of such political will. It is time that we take stronger political actions.

Sorsesekha Nok is a senior majoring in International Relations at the Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh