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Gender divide in schools still wide

Students sit in class at Phnom Penh's Sisowath High School last year.
Students sit in class at Phnom Penh's Sisowath High School last year. Hong Menea

Gender divide in schools still wide

A block of data released by UNESCO in anticipation of International Women’s Day on Tuesday shows that equal access to education remains a problem, with tens of thousands more girls not attending schools than boys and the education gap widening at the tertiary level.

According to the data, more girls than boys of all ages are out of school. Looking at “out-of-school adolescents”, previously defined by UNESCO as being 12 to 15 years of age, there are some 73,692 boys out of school, surpassed by a margin of over 13,000 by the 86,740 girls out of school. For younger children, meanwhile, the figures are more dramatic, with 57,357 girls not in school to 39,440 boys.

Meanwhile, enrolment rates are also higher for boys, with increasingly wide margins at higher levels of education.

While primary enrolment is nearly on par (95.75 per cent for boys to 93.65 per cent for girls), the gap increases through university-level education where enrolment for boys is 19.64 per cent compared to a mere 12.09 per cent for girls.

Ros Sopheap, the executive director of Gender and Development Cambodia, a gender rights NGO, explained yesterday that traditional values and cultural practices play into the gap in educational opportunities between the genders.

“If the parents can afford only one child, then the parents decide to keep the boy in school because they see the girl as someone who can stay home and help the mother earn income by taking care of the house while mother is working outside,” she said

“My niece raised this question: ‘Auntie why are girls always doing the housework?’” Sopheap added. “This is the mindset and culture, which in Cambodia is very deep in the practice,” she said.

“Talking about gender equality, we are talking about [how] boys and men can do housework like girls, and girls can study and achieve like boys.”

Sopheap says there is also an economic barrier in place for girls who, according to UNESCO, on average receive about a year less schooling than boys.

“The girls are supposed to go into the city to continue their studies, which is difficult for parents, because boys can stay at a pagoda [free of charge], while girls cannot,” she said, offering as a solution free dormitories at public institutions.

“The government has built some already but it is not enough.”

A Ministry of Education spokesman did not return a request for comment.

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