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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Schoolgirls set sights on male-dominated professions

Schoolgirls set sights on male-dominated professions

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The key to Cambodia's future

Schoolgirls in Phnom Penh are studying hard to become doctors, lawyers, and businesswomen

- but they say they lack role models and hint that their career choices are not always

their own.

Prum Sivun says she enjoys studying human rights at high school, but will go into

business when she finishes school.

The articulate 16-year-old is upbeat about women's rights in Cambodia: "A long

time ago, Cambodian women's rights were a little bit bad," she says. "Sometimes

the man would hit the woman. But now it is better than before . Now the royal government

and NGOs cooperate closely, and do things like show human rights on TV."

She believes girls and boys are treated the same at school and that they are equally

assertive in asking questions in class.

But when she is asked what kind of business she is interested in, her elder brother

interrupts her to say: "Marketing."

Sivun admits: "Even though I favor human rights, my parents want to make me

become a businesswoman, they think it's better because they cannot depend on the

salary otherwise."

Fifteen-year-old Pov Dany says firmly that she wants to be a lawyer, but goes blank

when asked why.

"I don't know . . . um, when I look at videos from Hong Kong and other countries,

I see law very often," she says, adding, "My parents think it is a good

choice for me." She's never met a female attorney.

Similarly, Meas Sopheap, 12, says she wants to be a doctor although she doesn't know

any female doctors.

"My parents are teachers, and my father says it is very difficult work,"

she says.

Asked why she prefers medicine, she turns shy and repeats: "I don't know,"

while a group of boys surrounds her and prods her to answer. When they drift off,

she finally says: "A doctor is a good job for everyone, you can treat people

... most women want to see a woman doctor."

Minister of Women's Affairs Mu Sochua says educated girls like these are the key

to Cambodia's future.

"If a young woman is educated, she will have a better chance, but she has to

be better educated [than men] and have a special area of expertise," she says.

The Ministry is launching a new campaign for International Women's Day on March 8

- titled "Neary Rattanak", or "Women are precious gems"- focusing

on girls' education, women's literacy, economic opportunities, reproductive health

and access to legal protection.

Sochua says the campaign derives its name from a Khmer proverb which calls men "gold"

and women "pieces of cloth". She explains that gold can be dropped in the

mud and still cleaned off, while cloth can be spoiled - that is, women should be

kept to one side and kept pure.

This cultural bias hampers women's professional progress, she believes. "We

get the back seat," she laments.

"Women are an asset, not a liability. They are as precious as gold," Sochua

says. "In the next ten years, I hope Cambodia will develop in many areas and

I hope women will have a better future than today."

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