Editor’s note: Socheata Vong is currently a democracy and governance specialist at USAID/Cambodia. Her work focuses on providing technical support on elections and political processes and civic participation in Cambodia. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Transparency International Cambodia. She is a manager of a private Cambodian Professional group (CAMPRO), an informal network joined by more than 500 Cambodian professionals working in various institutions. She is also a Managing Director of CamproPost, a website that publishes articles, essays, discussions, opinions, and documents that are related to Cambodia. Socheata holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Cambodia.
Q: You told me that you have been working with the USAID for more than 12 years. How would you see the engagement of women in the governance process now comparing to the last 12 years?
Socheata Vong: I observed that the women’s participation in the good governance in Cambodia is increasing. An increase in women’s participation is still limited, not yet seen as a considerable increase. For example, there is a significant increase of women working in politics, being local commune/Sangkat representatives, working with the government, and being elected to the national assembly, in comparing to the last 12 years.
Q: How would you see the men’s and women’s engagement in the process of governance in Cambodia?
Socheata Vong: There is an increase in women’s participation in good governance progress, yet it is still limited.
Q: Why do we need to have women’s participation in the process of governance in Cambodia?
Socheata Vong: Women play an essential role in Cambodian society. They have many roles in the family, employment and society. We can’t neglect women’s participation. If women aren’t able to participate in the process of governance, I don’t think we can accelerate our country’s development.
Q: If women’s participation is essential, why do women have limited involvement in the development and governance process?
Socheata Vong: Many factors influence women’s participation in the process of development in Cambodia. First, they face cultural and social norms that regulate the roles of women. Second, that is about their time and resources. Women bear more responsibilities than men—they worked at home, and they also work outside as men. I saw that the government had promoted women’s participation in the government. I want to see that they will encourage women in decision-making positions. If you just recruited them but didn’t give them the power to make a decision, they won’t be able to participate in the process of the development effectively. For example, in the provincial and district levels, women were recruited to work, yet they don’t have the decision-making power. We can’t say that there is an increase in women’s participation by that. That is just quantitative, but we haven’t seen any significant engagement of women. I want to see the government give the decision-making roles to women.
Q: You mentioned that the culture and tradition are still the challenges for women in Cambodia. Could you please elaborate further on how culture and tradition become challenging factors for women?
Socheata Vong: Some women moved out from the cultural and traditional norms. They found their own ways to be outstanding. However, many women face difficulty in walking away from culture and tradition. They want to be outstanding, yet the society looks at them in a level that makes them feel hesitated to take action. They can be outstanding if the surrounding environment encourages, motivate and trust them.
Q: What should be done to promote women’s participation?
Socheata Vong: I think increasing women’s roles in the decision-making process is essential including in the local, middle and high levels. We have to ensure that women have power—empowering them. They can make a decision in their community, province and at the national level. I would like the stakeholders to focus on empowering women to make their decision.
Q: We have seen that the relevant stakeholders have done many campaigns and reformed their programs to promote women’s participation, yet there is still a lack of women’s participation in the decision-making levels. What should be done to promote women’s participation in decision-making levels?
Socheata Vong: I have seen that the relevant stakeholders are working to promote women’s participation in the decision-making level. The challenge is that, when we implement the policy to promote women’s involvement, we face so many challenges. When we talk about women in politics, we see that the political parties register women’s as the candidates. However, women often are not on the top of candidate lists. So that they won’t be able to get a chance to be elected to the decision-making positions. If we want to see women in the decision-making position, the political parties need to place women at the top of the list. This way they will be able to be elected in the decision-making position.
Q: You have involved a lot in the social development works individually. Would you have any suggestions to others to contribute to promoting women’s participation in the development in Cambodia?
SocheataVong: There are many ways of engaging in social development works. For me, I participate individually and professionally. I participate in the women relevant programs. When I joint the programs, I was able to learn that there are many women’s empowerment programs or events out there including women entrepreneurs, women in politics, women in the civil society sector, women in the private sector, and so on. I am happy to see more women’s participation in social development works. So, they will be able to build the networks, get information and learn from each other. They can encourage other women who have less opportunities to get better opportunities.