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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Female students see need to change men

Female students see need to change men


EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Sokavang keeps a busy work schedule. Every morning she wakes

up at five o'clock to make breakfast for her family. Then, at six she goes to

the market in her hometown of Takmao, where she spends most of the day selling

fruits.

Girls hope for a better future - education will be the key.

"In the afternoon I go back home to do the housework and prepare

dinner," explains Sokavang.

In spite of being worn out by a day full of

duties, Sokavang still manages to attend one hour of English classes every

night. The classes are provided free of charge by the local NGO Cambodia World

Family (CWF).

Sokavang's case shows the difficulties facing many

Cambodian women who wish to improve their skills in order to achieve a better

future for themselves and their children. Household chores and lack of money

keep a lot of women out of the class rooms. Even young girls are often hindered

from attending primary schools.

However, both organizations and

government officials acknowledge that the economic and social benefits of

educating Cambodian women are tremendous. And with International Women's Day

coming up on March 8, attention is again brought to the important task of

improving the skills of the country's female population.

"Providing the

rural poor of Cambodia with the intellectual and economic tools they need to

attain self-sufficiency is built upon two beliefs. First that knowledge is

freedom and second that the greatest impact that can be made upon a society is

through its women", says Chhay Chhaorly, General Manager of CWF.

International Women's Day highlights the difficulties facing Cambodian women

both at work and at home

A

substantial amount of social and economic benefits result from girls' and

women's education. Research shows that even with basic training, girls and young

women bring their gains and earning abilities into their families and

communities.

An educated woman will be more capable of managing her own

household. She is more likely to immunize her children against diseases,

practice safe birth spacing methods and send her own daughters to school. Of

course, her education will also enable her to find better paid jobs.

Heng

Chanthol, director of the Human Resources Development Department under the

Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, said:

"Women have more

influence on their children or other family members but development will be a

slow-going process without education."

"Well educated-women could become

teachers or nurses and doctors by their professions and skills, but only a small

number of women have been well educated," Chanthol added.

Investments in

girls' education benefit the nation as a whole. It is directly linked to higher

agricultural productivity, increased life expectancy, reduced infant mortality,

higher household incomes and higher GNP.

Despite these facts, girls still

enroll in school in fewer numbers and drop out in higher numbers than boys. In

the 1997/98 school year, official statistics showed that girls' represented 46

percent of all Grade 1 enrollments but only 34 percent of enrollments in Grade

12.

A UNDP human development report showed that 45.3 percent of all

female pupils enrolled in Grade 9 drop out of school after completing that

year.

Housework, minding siblings and the lack of money are the main

reasons for drop-out and non-enrollment. Another problem is that parents still

think that education is more important for boys than girls.

The Regional

Survey on Girls' Education conducted by CARE Cambodia and the Ministry of

Education, Youth and Sports found that a majority of parents believe that

domestic work and market selling should be the responsibility of

girls.

Forty-six percent of parents agreed with the statement that boys

are more intelligent than girls, 61 percent that education is more important for

boys. Parents, whose girls were enrolled in school are also worried about

possible loss of traditional values, lack of job opportunities and security

problems.

Women represent a remarkable force in Cambodia, as they control

85 percent of small enterprises in urban areas, constitute 60 percent of the

agricultural work force and they head 25 to 30 percent of all rural households.

However, the current situation for girls and young women is one of limited

opportunities.

Women earn 30 to 40 percent less in wages than men with

the comparable qualifications, and some wage differences could simply reflect

the fact that women have fewer years of schooling and experience.

Very

few girls ever have the opportunity to proceed to higher education. A majority

of Cambodian girls are excluded from any lasting participation in formal

education and as a consequence women are underrepresented in the ranks of

doctors, teachers, administrators and decision-makers within government

institutions. Only about a fifth of all government and state enterprise workers

are female. Women in Cambodia account for 52 percent of the total

population.

As long as Cambodian men think that housework, fetching

firewood and water, looking after animals and assisting in rice production are

activities that all belong to the women, there will not be a great change in the

society.

However, the desire for change is strong among many girls and

women. When asked to name the three most important things for them, young female

students at Sokavang's English course answered:

"Equal rights, higher

education for better job opportunities and ... change men."

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