Neang Panha, 48, sells bottles of water and sundry drinks in a roadside shop in Takeo province. In grade nine, her mother forced her to stop studying so she could support her brother and three other sisters.
“I did not have more chances to go back to school,” Panha said. “My mother just told me that I have to quit because we are poor.”
Panha said that if she had more opportunities, she would have liked to finish her education and work in an office. But for many Cambodian women battling poverty, issues of sustenance come before gaining an education.
A Millennium Development Goal Acceleration Framework action plan presented yesterday by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) seeks to address Panha’s and other women’s lagging economic opportunities in Cambodia.
“Women have been consistently occupying in large numbers the bottom of the employment ladder,” said Jamila Seftaoui, UNDP policy adviser on gender.
The plan will help Cambodia achieve targeted Millenium Development Goals by 2015. Though no date of execution has been set, organisers hope to see serious progress by the end of the year.
Ing Kantha Phavi, minister of Women’s Affairs, supports the plan but recognises that Cambodia has not been completely successful in reaching its gender equality goals.
“We reached some development indicators so far, but we are late for some indicators that we could not get as we expected,” she said. “If we do not accelerate, we will not achieve success by 2015.”
The action plan narrowly focuses on vocational skill development, promoting female entrepreneurship to the formal sector and improving the livelihood of rural communities.
Panha does not want her two children to miss out on their education as she did.
“I hope that women in our country in the future will become leaders or have better work than my generation.”