Poverty and culture: Key barriers to education and training of women and girls in Cambodia
Aside from Burma, Cambodia is the poorest country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and one of the poorest in Asia. Tourism remains one of the top earners for the country, though around 80% of country’s population is employed in the agricultural sector1. The country’s reliance on aid is legendary, and anecdotal evidence of poverty, including the high levels of child prostitution and trafficking, belies statistics that show growing GDP levels.
In 2005, the government of Cambodia published a policy on ICT in education. While enrolment rates in primary school in Cambodia are high, at almost 89%, they drop to 20% (the lowest in ASEAN) by secondary school2 and major challenges remain if the government is to achieve its policy goal of ICT being used as a primary education tool. Only a quarter of secondary schools have electric power, for example, and only six per cent of lower secondary schools have a computer, though 35% of upper secondary schools have at least one computer.
These problems are compounded by the inability of both teachers and students to access the computers that are available. In data quoted in a study on the effectiveness of the policy3, a study of rural schools found that “primary schools had an average of 2.52 computers, lower secondary schools had an average of 8.17 computers, upper secondary schools had an average of 10.29 computers, and post secondary schools had an average of 22.75 computers. Only 37.5% of the schools reported that 50% or more of their students could access the computers... 15.6% of the schools never allowed their students to access the computers. Additionally, 22.9% of the schools reported that none of their teachers had access to the computers, while only 14.6% of the schools reported all of their teachers had access to the computers.”
It would be interesting to discover whether there are gender differences in terms of access to the computers.
Further, the ability of the government to implement the policy on ICT in education has been questioned, especially given that 18 months after the policy was announced and due to be implemented, only three per cent of schools had received a copy of the policy. This exacerbates the rural-urban digital divide.
In circumstances where poverty is having such a profound impact on quality of life as well as life expectancy, the education and training of women and girls can play a crucial role in the prevention of poverty and in helping to prevent the trafficking of girl children. GenderIT.org editor Sonia Randhawa interviewed the director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children of Sexual Purposes (ECPAT)-Cambodia about how work they are doing through a small grant from the APC's MDG3 Take Back the Tech! Fund is contributing to change.
"Sonia Randhawa: Could you tell me a bit about the project ECPAT-Cambodia does through the MDG3 Take Back the Tech! Fund.
Chanveasna Chin: ECPAT-Cambodia established an online resource centre on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). The aim of the resource centre is to share information about CSEC in Cambodia to non-govermental organizations (NGOs) and key stakeholders. With this new resource center, we believe that more projects and activities will emerge to address violence against women.
Furthermore, the resource centre will help NGO staff particularly those working to represent the victims of violence to bring information and knowledge to their beneficiaries.
SR: What are the major challenges facing women and girls in having access to education and training in Cambodia?
CC: The main challenges facing women and girls in having access to education and training are the poverty and cultural context. In Cambodia, girls are often kept at home to look after sisters/brothers in a poor family while boys are sent to school. The parents believe that men can earn more money than women for the same position. Furthermore, parents are afraid that girls will fall in love and lose her virginity, which will result in no one wanting to marry her. The worst belief is that even though girls get high education, they can’t go far. The final destination for all girls is to be a cook for her husband.
SR: How does your project help to overcome these challenges, particularly in regards to ICTs?
CC: With the resource centre, we believe that women and girls will get more information about what is happening to women. For example, women and girls are the majority of those who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. In particular, university students will be able to share information with their peers resulting in more women being educated, especially as the information is available in a way that is very easy to access.
The resource centre includes social network tools such as facebook, twitter and myspace. We believe that with these powerful social networking, women and girls will get more information about social illnesses.
Without access to either informal or formal education, then, the ability for young women to have access to information that can protect them against sexual exploitation or trafficking is low. Centres such as the one established by ECPAT-Cambodia help to provide necessary peer-to-peer education that can help women who are beyond the reach of the formal education system. By educating those at schools and universities, those with access to online tools, the organisation hopes to also reach those without the same level of access.
SR: What policy changes are needed to strengthen these efforts?
CC: A lot is being done at a policy level. The problem is still prevalent. The problem is the implementation of these policies. How do you expect in a country like Cambodia change quickly, when this change follows being under a communist regime for about 20 years? But we believe that guided by the proverb “information is a power” something will change, from one term to another, but at a very slow pace.”
Message for Cambodian government and the Commission on the Status on Women
“One of the reasons that ECPAT-Cambodia received the MDG3 TBTT! Grant was to help build the capacities of organisations in Cambodia working on the issue of VAW”, explains Lalaine P. Vidao, the regional coordinator of MDG3 Take Back the Tech! project in Asia. But the problem of institution-building is greater than can be handled by small grants such as these. Both the international aid community and the Cambodian government need to put in place policies to ensure that the organisations working on VAW have the capacity to tackle the problems they face, that the policies developed by government are appropriate to the issues the NGOs are facing and that they are consistently applied and implemented.
The challenge for participants at the Commission on the Status on Women4 is how to propose solutions that take into account these capacity building needs and ensure that women and girls benefit from changes to ICT and educational policy not only in terms of basic access but also to reach higher educational aspirations such as facilitating women and girls access to information and knowledge on their rights.