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Women struggling to attain higher levels of education

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Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, speaks yesterday at a conference held at the InterContinental hotel in Phnom Penh.

Women are struggling to attain secondary and university education despite “remarkable” progress in increasing women’s access to primary education in recent years, officials and rights workers said yesterday.

Speaking at a conference  on women in the capital yesterday, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi pointed to literacy rates as evidence of Cambodia’s success in achieving gender parity in access to primary education.

“The literacy rate of people under [the age of] 20 reflects Cambodia’s remarkable progress in providing girls with access to education at the primary level,” she said.

However, officials said that they were working to address a gender gap in secondary and higher education by providing scholarships and accommodation for female students.

“We prioritise females when selecting scholarship recipients at all levels. If men and women are equal, we prioritise women,” said Yim Van Chankan, deputy general of the general directorate of education at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

The percentage of government-funded university scholarships granted to female students had increased from 36 percent to 55 percent between 2006 and 2010, Yim Van Chankan said.

Rights workers expressed concern that women were not enrolling in high school or university at the same rate as their male counterparts.

“Although we are seeing similar levels of enrolment in primary education for girls and boys, the proportion decreases as they get older and into high school and higher education,” Ros Sopheap, executive director of NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, said.

Sen Marya, dormitory manager for Harpswell Foundation, a US-based NGO that operates a primary school in Kampong Chhnang province and dorms for female students in the capital, said that a lack of affordable lodging for rural female students was fuelling the problem.

“Girls can’t move on to the next level if they don’t have a place to stay,” she said, claiming that some public teachers in rural villages had also been charging students school fees.

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