Poor education and illiteracy are widely recognised as the main causes of poverty and violence in society. To avoid being victimised by these social ills, women must have access to a proper education.
While literacy training is part of the solution, education doesn’t only mean being able to read and write. Women should have the opportunity to extend their studies to higher education institutions and a chance to pursue whatever type of degree they desire. This type of education can equip women with understanding, knowledge and competence to advance their careers, live a good life and lift up their family and friends.
Tradition and laws
While most of the readers of this magazine already know the ladder points to be true, there are many traditional concepts in Cambodia that do not support the idea of an enterprising woman. “You don’t need to study that much, as at the end you will get married and stay at home to take care of your family,” according to one commonly held perception. “No matter how successful you are in your life, you will not be considered a good person until you have a good husband,” according to another, which is often passed down from mothers to daughters, hindering women’s pursuit of a proper education and career advancement.
To avoid being overly influenced by traditional understandings of the women’s role in Cambodian society, which can lead to self-imposed isolation and an outdated mindset, women need to be educated about available laws in Cambodia and universal women’s rights, which have been ratified by Cambodia. This will begin to help women realise their real value and have proper access to legal protection.
Women’s education on family
Asking women about how they will live their lives once they are married reveals an unfortunate truth: that women are willing to give up on many of their education and career goals, especially if their husbands do not approve. Studies have been carried out by local NGOs such as GAD/C to show that housework does contribute a lot to a family, but should women sacrifice everything for their marriage? And more importantly, if the marriage doesn’t go well, do women have the ability to protect themselves or leave their marriage?
According to the “Key Gender Statistics in Cambodia”, published by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on March 2009, quoting from the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2005, over 20 percent of women over 15 years old have experienced domestic violence. Beyond the statistics, anyone who reads local media knows that the pages are filled with news about domestic violence and the burden of financial problems facing women after divorce.
Women should learn from the suffering of these other women and realise that there is not just one way of being a woman. Forming a family is necessary in society, but it doesn’t mean women should stop getting an education, working and building their personal financial strength. Women must get a good education on family planning and related rights to empower them to protect themselves and bring an end to abusive situations.
According to a study of 15-24-year-old women in Cambodia titled “Love and sexual relationships”, undertaken by independent researcher Tong Soprach, a growing number of unmarried women in the country are sexually active. However, discussions about sex and reproductive health for unmarried women is taboo, which puts women in a situation where they don’t have the knowledge to protect themselves from possible dangers such as sexually transmitted diseases (see page 11) and unwanted pregnancies.
Cambodian society must adapt its attitude towards sex and reproductive health education for women so that they can avoid risky behaviour and access quality health care if it is required.
Cambodia has no social fund for unemployment and retirement. Though employed people with an official salary pay taxes to the department of taxations, women will not get any financial support in case of unemployment or retirement. Therefore, unemployed or retired women need financial support from their own savings, or their families, or else they are likely to face great hardship.
In many ways, financial security is one of the most important factors in having the power to make important life decisions. To live a life of freedom, women need to have financial power and financial independence; and in order to have this power and independence, women need to be educated about financial planning and money management. If women are confident that they can support themselves, it will make them less likely to rely on unhealthy relationships to keep them financially afloat.
There is no single education factor that can help women to live a happy life, but the many factors I have listed will all contribute to a higher quality of life for women throughout Cambodia. For more information on social development in Cambodia focusing on women, go online and visit http://women.open.org.kh.
Sidaroth Kong, 28, coordinates the Open Learning (E-Learning) Program at the Open Institute