Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to philanthropists to contribute to building dormitories for female students across the country, especially in rural areas, as this will enhance their access to education and reduce the study gap that exists between urban and rural women.

Hun Sen made the call at a March 7 event in celebration of the 112th International Women’s Day, one day prior to the occasion.

“I should make it clear that I want to see this become a nationwide movement. I led a meeting of the Cambodian National Council for Women (CNCW) and we decided that building dormitories for female students is a priority – not just in Phnom Penh, but also in the provinces,” he said.

“I want to use this opportunity to call on philanthropists to participate in building dormitories for women students in high schools, which we have throughout the country. There are many girls and young women who cannot complete their high school education because they have no accommodation and their homes are too isolated from the campus,” he added.

“This will reduce the education gap between urban and remote rural areas, and will encourage rural women to pursue their studies, and maybe even go on to university. In addition, it will ease parents’ concerns about the safety of their daughters,” he said.

At the February 21 annual meeting of the CNCW, responsibility for constructing the dormitories was assigned to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

Chhit Bunthong, director of the Institute of Cultural Relations, Education and Tourism at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he believes that the premier’s appeal will lead to an increase in the number of women entering higher education.

“Many parents and guardians are concerned that their daughters need to travel to school, and this would allay their fears. An increase in the number of educated women will also allow them to become more involved in socio-economic and political activities,” he said.

He suggested that the government assign a budget for this work so it gets underway immediately, and then raise funds from philanthropists or domestic and international civil society organisations to recoup the costs.

Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group ADHOC, also supported the prime minister’s call.

“This will reduce the challenges faced by young women and girls while travelling in rural areas and will encourage them to continue their education,” he said.

“This is entirely the right thing to do. Similar plans have been mooted in the past, but were never implemented across the whole Kingdom. I hope that this will be supported by the generous people of the Kingdom” he added.

He hoped that the prime minister would monitor the progress of the dormitories’ construction, and that local authorities would also get behind the project.