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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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."