SEATTLE — In the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime, the education system in Cambodia experienced complete overturn. Today, though improvement continues, women in Cambodia still face difficulties pursuing education. Despite those struggles, girls’ education in Cambodia continues to improve and expand.
Facts About Girls’ Education in Cambodia
- Poverty is the most disruptive factor for girls’ education in Cambodia.
Often, girls must drop out of school to care for their home or go to work. In Cambodia, 30 percent of female sex workers are under 18 and have little to no schooling. Without educational avenues to escape poverty, girls often have few options and are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
- Traditional expectations still limit women’s learning opportunities.
Sok Kimsroeung of World Education runs a girls’ education program in association with UNICEF. He told UNICEF that even without poverty, there is still “the traditional perception that girls don’t need higher education beyond grade 6 or 9.”
- Rural women are less likely to receive further education.
Women in poorer provinces often face increased difficulty pursuing education. Besides needing to work for money, the distance from school can also prevent girls from attending. Many Cambodian women face this problem; according to the World Bank, 79.06 percent of the Cambodian population lived in rural areas in 2016.
- Scholarships help girls further their education.
According to UNICEF, scholarships are the most helpful tool for the growth of girls’ education in Cambodia. The gross enrollment rate of women in upper secondary school increased with ministry scholarships for women, prioritizing female dormitories and increased funding for secondary education in local schools. In the 2002-2003 school year, the ratio of female students to male students was about 0.5:1, but by 2013, it had risen to an almost 1:1 ratio. Scholarships also allow women already accepted to school to afford enrollment. The World Bank Group alone provides about 1,000 scholarships a year.
- Thanks to the National Education for All program, girls’ involvement in education has increased.
The National Education for All program, implemented in Cambodia from 2000 to 2015, focused on expanding education opportunities for poor communities and girls. Reforms in education access, curriculums and staffing led to a decrease in the gender disparity in primary school admission rates. In the 2002-2003 school year, girls’ primary school net admission rate was almost 5 percent lower than boys, but this disparity disappeared by the 2012-2013 school year.
- The Asia Foundation educates women entrepreneurs and combats sex trafficking.
The Asia Foundation works across Asia to improve lives. In Cambodia, it provides undergraduate scholarships for women, offers legal support for sex trafficking victims, and as of 2013, had engaged 325 female community representatives in networking events, working toward its stated goal of women “sharing common concerns and identifying strategic solutions to local governance challenges.”
- A focus on building self-esteem creates community leaders.
A 2001 Heinrich Böll Foundation case study of female commune leaders in the Kratie province found that increasing women’s self-confidence led to them being more active in their communities. Educating women on how to deal with crises created community trust in their abilities and allowed the women to expand their roles from the domestic sphere.
- Efforts to teach girls history help them expand their leadership skills.
The Documentation Center of Cambodia launched a program to educate children about the Khmer Rouge genocide, but many girls missed out on the opportunity. Via the Harpswell Foundation, 84 now-undergraduate female students were able to attend a program that offered readings and close study of the events in order to learn about the complexity of the issues and become better leaders in their communities.
- Financial literacy and job training programs encourage women no longer in school to follow their dreams.
Specialized programs, like those offered by the Women’s Resource Center of Cambodia, provide outreach to women trying to help their community. Kunthea Ny has dreamed of opening her own midwifery clinic, and currently interns through the Women’s Resource Center to learn the skills she needs for her career. Other women in similar programs have opened their own businesses and gained control of their finances.
- Many charities focus on education at a secondary level and keeping kids in school.
International and local Cambodian charities work to provide aid to girls across the country. Kids at Risk Cambodia volunteers with homeless, orphaned and disabled children to offer care and some schooling. They and other charities often need aid to improve the lives of girls across Cambodia.
In the future, the rates of women pursuing more education are expected to rise, with a focus on keeping girls in school past grade 9. Strategies that have helped improve girls’ education in Cambodia continue to be employed today, but there is room for further growth.
– Grace Gay