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Education to empower new generation of women leaders

Gender inequality in education is still palpable in Cambodia, causing women to be undervalued in the workplace and their potential to be untapped, the Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said during the celebration of the United Nations International Day of the Girl at the Harpswell Foundation in Phnom Penh yesterday.

“Despite giant progress, a third of adult Cambodian women are still illiterate,” Prak Channay said, stressing the importance of education for Cambodian women.

“Girls who start an adult life with an education handicap, step into a life characterised by weak status and horizons,” she said.

“Their ability to negotiate better salaries, better social protection benefits, to claim their rights and to get promoted to better, more secure jobs, is then limited and their margins sensibly narrower than those who step in with a higher education diploma.”

American-based Harpswell foundation is an NGO in Cambodia that countervails this development through empowering a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia and the developing world. It provides education, housing and leadership training to children and young women.

The organisation’s long term goal includes their graduates becoming ministers of government, directors of hospitals, heads of law firms, heads of NGO’s, and business entrepreneurs and executives.

According to Ing Varony, senior manager of Harpswell, a lot of the organisation’s graduates get jobs in law firms or within NGOs.

“Some receive very high positions like project managers,” she said yesterday.

Countries investing in promoting women’s social and economic status tend to have lower poverty rates, according to the World Bank. Promoting gender equality and empowering women is one of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals.

Srun Chanthy, a medicine major, said the education she gets at the Harpswell Foundation includes general knowledge, learning about leadership and improving critical thinking.

She said after graduation she wants to study abroad in France and eventually become a doctor and work in the Minstry of Health.

According to Srun Chanthy, some of the girls at the Harpswell Foundation major in economics and want to work in companies after graduation. “They want to get experience and then they want to do their own business,” she said.  

Hem Davy, a law major at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said she can consider herself lucky compared to other girls who do not get the chance to study or become mothers at a young age.

“There is a lack of financial support, which forces them to quit their studies, the majority finish after high school. Hence, they become garment workers or farmers,” she said during her speech as representative of the second year students at Harpswell Foundation yesterday.

“In Cambodia, women account for more than 50 per cent of the overall population, so I am sure that the country will not attain great achievements unless women are allowed to take part,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anne Renzenbrink at anne.renzenbrink@phnompenhpost.com

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