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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 07/98: Cambodia  
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EDITIONS
Cambodia Monday, 27 July, 1998, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Women at the ballot box
Women at Ranariddh rally
Cambodian women pray for change
In Cambodia's general election campaign, the country's women have been making their voices heard.

After years of civil war, the country may still be male-orientated, but women constitute more than half the potential voters and head more than a quarter of the households in Cambodia.

But until now they have not had much of a political voice.

Pok Nanda is Executive Director of Women for Prosperity - a non-government group that campaigns to get more women into positions of influence.

She says that these are the first elections in which women's votes will really count.

Flower girl
"I would like our kids to get jobs" said one woman
"In this election there will be a lot of women who vote because they are eager to vote. They know their rights, and they can choose the leader that they feel will represent them," she said.

Among the changes women are demanding are equal opportunities in the workplace, better protection of their children, and steps to prevent prostitution.

"I want our Cambodian women to have freedom," said one woman.

"During the Pol Pot time, they took all my children away. I would like them to help our younger generation to get jobs," said another.

Changing times

Perhaps in recognition of the increased political mobility of women, many parties pledged to ensure that 30% of candidates were women.

Elderly woman at political rally
'Women are eager to vote'
However, only a handful were able to live up to this promise - and the major three parties were not among them.

Male voices still dominate proceedings in Cambodia's National Assembly. Only seven of the 120 members of parliament are women, and none have yet made it to cabinet level.

But several new parties headed by women are hoping to change that.

Cambodian-American Doug Sokhoeun is a candidate for the Khmer Snake Lady Party.

"I want women to know that there is a least one woman who will represent them, who will talk about their legal rights as merchants, civilians, and farmers," she said.

A Buddhist nun marches for peace
The Vice President of the National Development Party, Chan Sobuvny, said that women want to see an end to violence and fighting.

"Women want to change the culture of war to the culture of peace," she said. "Women have the capacity."

But the vice president of the women's wing of the royalist Funcinpec party, Mu Sochua, says that it is still culturally unacceptable for women to go far in politics.

"It's not easy for us women to be at a very high political level. It is not in the culture of Cambodia. That's why we have to make great efforts to run in these elections," she said.

Even the most energetic campaigners admit there is still a long way to go before women achieve parity with men in politics.

But that does not stop them pushing for better representation and demanding that issues affecting women are placed high on the political agenda.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
Caroline Gluck reports on how women's issues are finally being taken seriously
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