On a stage in front of 75 people in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, Sophy Men from rural Battambang province addresses the crowd like a seasoned public speaker. Self-assured and engaging, the newly elected commune councilor said she didn't always have this level of self-confidence.
"I used to be very nervous and always shook like a leaf when I talked to people," Sophy said. "But the training from this project gave me so much confidence and helped me participate in politics for the sake of other women in Cambodia."
The communications and public-speaking training that Sophy and 117 other female political candidates received was part of the three-year project "Women into Politics! Greater female participation in Cambodia", funded by the European Union. The closing ceremony took place on Nov. 29.
The project was implemented by DW Akademie and its two local partners, the Women's Media Centre of Cambodia (WMC) and Banteay Srei. Its goal was to increase women's participation in the political process, particularly during the 2017 Commune Council and 2018 National Assembly elections, and to empower them to play a stronger role in their communities in general.
Greater role for women
According to Thida Khus, executive director of the women's rights NGO Silaka, there is a strong need to boost women's participation in Cambodia, a country where traditional views of the role of women predominate. Despite some advances, women rarely take on decision-making roles in their communities.
"Women in Cambodia tend to have a supporting role only, engaged in activities like cooking or keeping house," said Khus in the closing event's keynote speech. "Women make up more than half of the population and it's crucial they have a role in decision-making, especially in the public sphere."
Thanks to the project, women now have a greater voice in Cambodia since nearly 25 percent of those who went through the training were elected to their local commune councils.
Media outreach to young voters
The project had several other components as well, including a popular interactive media campaign. It was aimed at young people, especially first-time voters, and supplied them with practical information on elections, such as how to register to vote and where to find voting day information. This was disseminated on WMC radio in the form of call-in shows as well as infographics and videos on its Facebook page and YouTube channel. Over the project period, these messages reached some 65,000 people across Cambodia and beyond.
Another aim of the project was to boost media coverage of topics of special relevance to women. This was accomplished by holding a series of rural public forums where some 1,000 local women discussed issues important to them and their daily lives with political candidates. Reporters from WMC interviewed forum participants and created articles, videos, online slideshows and other media publications based on the issues the women raised. These included domestic violence, migration, pre-natal health and barriers women face with regard to political participation – topics not often covered in national media.
Sharing the message
"The project has clearly met its aims to support women by increasing their visibility in society and by strengthening awareness of their role in society," said Sabina Casagrande, DW Akademie's Country Manager for Cambodia.
Franck Viault, head of cooperation at the EU Delegation to Cambodia, praised the project as being the first opportunity for many women to acquire the knowledge and courage to get more involved in their communities.
"Their engagement will benefit Cambodia on its democratic path in the long term," he said at the closing event.
Not all of the women who took part in the project were elected to public office, like Sophy Men. But Sophy explains that all of those who participated benefited in concrete ways.
"While we can now engage in society more than before, we can also play a more important role at home," she said. "The project taught us about the equal roles that men and women should play. We can now share that information with other women in our communities."Kyle James