“Commune Level Organized Service and Engagement Gender Advancement Program (CLOSE-GAP)”
I. BACKGROUND AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
Gender equality, empowerment of all women and girls, and the full realization of their human rights are essential to achieving an inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development. In Cambodia, women represent over 50% of the total population; an inclusive society is likely to be more vibrant, tolerant and economically prosperous. The focus on local development has been extremely important in the Cambodia post-conflict context, since rural communities in particular have faced extreme levels of both devastation and poverty.
Over the past 15 years, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has gradually established and implemented laws and policies for sub-national governance toward a more democratic governance system with aim to be close to local citizens. Article 19 of the Sub-Decree on Decentralization of Powers, Roles and Duties to Commune/Sangkat Councils (RGC 2002), established Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) 2004 as official sub- committee, with major roles to recommend, advocate, coordinate, monitor and report to ensure all vulnerable populations, including women and children, receive appropriate benefits and inclusive social support and services. However, up to the end of the 3rd mandate, in 2016, CCWC was unable to perform their mandated effectively to meet the needs of the constituents. Following are the major factors viewed as the root causes for this gap:
- Under-representation of women elected to the Commune/Sangkat council is considered to be the main factor for an ineffective operation of The number of elected women councilors at commune level is significantly low across the last four mandates at the national average of 14%. In comparison to the third mandate in 2012, the recent 2017 Commune/Sangkat election result shows a slight decrease in the percentage of elected women councilors (17.78% to 16.76%, respectively). Also, between the last two mandates, the number of Communes/Sangkat without elected women councilors increased from 206 in 2012 to 344 in 2017. This situation deprives those communes to a women chair of CCWC, with also the low level of women representatives in the committee, leaving negatively influence of women’s bargaining power in accessing financial resources for Commune/Sangkat.
- A lack of financial and coordinated technical support to CCWC is another influencing factor that limits the efficiency and effectiveness of the Annually, all communes/Sangkats received less than 3% of the national budget; equivalent to approximately 9 million USD or 35,000 USD per commune/Sangkat. Only 3-4 percent of the total Commune/Sangkat fund is allocated to CCWC’s budget. On top of this low allocation, many of the CCWCs do not have access to the budget. Only up to 2% of funds allocated to the communes reach the committee according to a SILAKA study in 2016. Furthermore, the commune fund is mainly used for logistic constructions instead of social services for the citizen. Many female councilors reported that the Commune/Sangkat fund allocated to CCWC’s budget is not enough and they need to mobilize from other sources such as local charity to help vulnerable women/girls who need help. A gender audit report produced by the National Committee for Democratic Development at Sub-national level (NCDD) found that “little gender analysis conducted in the preparation of sub-national plans; consequently, gender is not well mainstreamed local development plans. The report indicated that the budget transfers are often late. It was also found out that majority of CCWCs reported to have limited knowledge on the disbursement and settlement procedures of Commune/Sangkat funds. In most cases, CCWC members rely on a commune clerk to do the administration and paper work to clear the expenditures. Further, CCWC shows little understanding of the Commune/Sangkat Fund’s procedures, and capacity to develop plan, facilitation/mobilizing skills to have their plans incorporated into their Commune Development Plan and Commune Investment Plan.
- Discrimination among political parties having seats in the Commune/Sangkat Discrimination among political parties having seats in the Commune/Sangkat council also adversely affects the performance of CCWC. The commune elections held in 2002, 2007 and 2012 crafted the presence of a pluralist political party system in local governance of Cambodia. This arrangement means Cambodian local political landscape is no longer controlled by one party. Committee for Free and Fair Election (COMFREL 2013) reported that collaboration between councilors in response to local demands as a priority; however, competition between political parties still exists. The decisions on important issues seem to be driven by the dominant political party, including the appointment of village chiefs. The favor to the political parties’ interest leads to the infectiveness of mandated roles of Commune/Sangkat councils in response to needs of people. Thus, there is a need to create an enabling environment where women councilors from different political parties can work collectively to advocate for the enhancement of the availability, accessibility, and accountability of social services to the communities in their respective territories.
With youth, especially young women under the age of 35, engagement on social affairs and leadership in public offices is also limited. In the commune/Sangkat elections in 2012, youth represented the largest electorate with 54 percent of all registered voters. Although youth are increasingly interested in politics, the number of elected young women councilors is significantly low at only 2.6 percent in 2012 (COMFREL 2012). Unclear and non-transparent candidate listing mechanisms of political parties are the major challenges to increasing youth’s engagement in politics. Women still face entrenched barriers to their leadership position including social and cultural norms, traditional stereotypes, lack of support/trust from family, friends and colleagues, and limited self-confidence and social skills. There are increasing number of young students in universities with basic foundation and basic Information and Communication Technology (ICT) knowledge to access information. Marx et al (2014:12) published report study, said in its official report: involvement of women in the processes and in meetings, in reality are to meet the number required for any event, but “meaningful participation is negligible” and that “wealthier and predominantly male participants, often use informal means to communicate with officials gain more influence over decision-making”. As a result, the voices of youth, particularly young women and girls have not affected Cambodian policy makers, minimizing the voice from women and girls. Opening up opportunities for these young women to show what they are capable of and to prepare them to enter to leadership position into public services through government policies, and through political candidate lists for sub- national level positions is important. Preparing these women to be viable for future leadership at the sub-national administration and key political parties for public office is also important.
II. PROJECT OBJECTIVES
a) Overall Goal:
Promote gender equality in decision making at the sub-national level by focusing on the commune level in five provinces (Kandal, Tbong Khmum, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, and Stung Treng) in Cambodia.
- To strengthen capacity of the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) and youth groups to take a leadership role to advocate for their respective communities, particularly women and girls;
- To strengthen networking and linkages of women in bringing women’s voices to be heard by policy makers and leaders of technical departments and ministries at the local, national, and regional level;
- To provide strategic and objective data for the implementation of the decentralization policy and guidance for other development partners and women activists to advocate for policy change at the national and sub-nationa.
The project will be implemented in 50 communes, 10 districts in 5 provinces including: Kandal, Tbong Khmum, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, and Stung Treng.