Nearly one week into an election campaign period that has seen Phnom Penh's streets play host to thousands of political party supporters, attention turned Wednesday to policy, when representatives from seven of the eight parties running for seats delivered their manifestos on issues affecting women and children.
Speaking to a conference room packed with more than 250 voters, women's rights advocates and students, U.N. Women country director Wendy Kusuma said it was time for the parties to make public declarations on issues such as gender equality.
“It is always best if promises are made in public because then the public can track how they are kept,” Ms. Kusuma said. “There are three areas we need to improve on with regard to gender equality: Voice, so that women are represented at a decision-making level; Choice, which focuses on women's economic empowerment, and safety against violence against women and girls.”
Although questions could be put directly to the party representatives, there was no direct debate between them. Still, the candidates did offer their parties' solutions to some of the most pressing gender-related issues, including dropout rates of girls in school, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
CPP member Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the CPP had a number of policies focused on women.
“We want to increase access to health care, especially in rural areas. We want to promote and empower women,” Ms. Bun Eng said, adding that attention would also be paid to the needs of children in state-run orphanages and those with disabilities.
Kem Monovithya, representing the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said the party would offer scholarships to girls to stem the tide of dropouts.
“In Cambodia we have more women, but less women involved in politics,” she said in reference to concerns that Cambodia is set to fail its 2015 Millenium Development Goal of having 30 percent of parliamentary seats occupied by women. “Women and children are vulnerable, and we want them to live peacefully with dignity.”
This would include vocational training and providing loans to women who wish to set up their own businesses.
“Pregnant women would also be given $100 for their pregnancy,” she said.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of the Gender and Development for Cambodia organization, said the upcoming mandate is an opportunity for parties to tap into the economic potential of focusing on women's issues.
“Women could be the drivers of economic growth and development,” she said. “But if they don't have a good livelihood, it's a barrier.”
The CPP and CNRP suggested strengthening the law and increasing awareness to tackle the problem of domestic violence, while the leader of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, Daran Kravanh, suggested that anger-management classes could help.
“If housewives consider their husband as king, we should change that concept,” he added.