Women’s advocates and officials at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs yesterday celebrated the U.N.’s International Day of the Girl in Phnom Penh and called for greater access to higher education for girls in Cambodia so they can avoid falling into exploitative jobs.
“Girls who start an adult life with an education handicap step into a life that is characterized by a weak status and horizons,” Undersecretary of State Prak Channay said at the Harpswell Dormitory and Leadership Center, which takes young women with little means in the provinces and supports them in pursuing post-secondary studies.
“Their ability to negotiate a better salary, better social protection benefits, to claim their rights and get promoted to better and more secure jobs is more limited than those who are prepared with a higher education diploma,” Ms. Channay said, adding that girls who are uneducated can be lured into informal channels of the economy.
According to the U.N., gender parity is “slightly off-track” for females going into university education in Cambodia, which currently scores 57.5. A score of 100 is equal to complete parity. The target number for Cambodia under the U.N.’s millennium development goals is to reach a score of 61.5 by 2015.
Though progress has been made in terms of encouraging girls to attend primary and secondary school, a third of Cambodian adult women are still illiterate, Ms. Channay said.
Chheng Sivgech, 21, a fourth-year law student at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said the biggest obstacle for her was that her parents did not have the money to send her to school, and that they were worried about her safety in Phnom Penh. However, the Harpswell program has provided her with all the support she needs in order to gain access to a full education.
“Harpswell also teaches me to be confident, about how to be a good student and how to have good communication [skills],” said Ms. Sivgech. “These things can help me a lot even if they cannot help me directly to be a lawyer; it can prepare me to be independent.”
(Additional reporting by Len Leng)