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Women aiding women

Women aiding women

In the chaos of 1979, when famine threatened four million survivors of the Khmer

Rouge state, the Association of Cambodian Women was formed to help at the most basic

village level.

The most urgent need was to resume food production by families and aid came from

socialist countries and UNICEF.

While aid was being distributed it was discovered that many women had experience

of economic activity and want to use their skills again.

The Association of Cambodian Women started a women in development program, nowrun

by Ma Vanny.

"One family would want to rear ducks, another a fish pond, another weaving silk

or processing sugar," she said.

"We would put the proposal to UNICEF, with a survey of the village and the people's

situation." The association would then distribute aid.

The association is still working with UNICEF and their family food program involves

100,000 women in 230 villages.

"The staff at central level are volunteers and do not get a government salary,

while the 12 members of our mobile team get $3 a day when they are in the provinces,"

said Ma Vanny.

Other programs teach about credit, literacy and hygiene education. Ma Vanny is sure

the status of women and their education level will improve rapidly.

"Many organizations are coming to help and emphasizing that the situation of

women is of crucial importance if living standards are to be improved," she

said.

She thinks the low educational status of women compared to men "is due to their

situation in life".

"Women have many children. There is a shortage of labor in the countryside and

often the schools are three to four kilometers away and difficult to get to,"

she said.

Ma Vanny hopes to widen the scope of the development program. Last year she visited

Bangladesh to learn about the highly successful Grameen Bank for poor villagers.

On her return, she started a similar revolving credit scheme in the villages the

association serves.

The Grameen Bank lends money to individuals within a group. If the loans are repaid

other members of the group are lent money.

The system is self-regulatory and ensures money is nearly always repaid.

Ma Vanny also hopes for greater cooperation between women's groups and she hopes

one will organize a workshop.

"At the moment there is no cooperation between the women's organizations and

many new ones started," she said.

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