What are the challenges facing girls in Cambodia?
One of the biggest challenges for girls in Cambodia is access to education. In families, particularly poor families, girls are expected to help their parents with everything from looking after younger children, to farming, to getting a job, which will contribute to the family’s income. Poor families often can’t afford to continue education, so many girls drop out when they reach high school and are of working age. While women have access to a wide variety of jobs, these tend to be menial and low paying. There are a limited number of women in leadership roles.
Much is expected of girls in Cambodia. Parents worry about a girl’s safety and reputation, so in addition to contributing to the family’s income, a daughter is expected to be well behaved, modest, and dutiful. While girls face a lot of expectations, very little is expected of boys besides not doing drugs or getting someone pregnant before marriage!
Additionally, our culture is very conservative, and women’s health issues are not publicly discussed. Unmarried women, in particular, are very shy about talking about their health, even to their friends. Finally, girls from poor families have limited access to sports, music, computers, or travel, which would broaden their opportunities, awareness, and outlook.
How is EYC trying to address some of these challenges?
Keeping girls in school – both regular Khmer school and EYC is an essential goal of EYC. Since families in the communities we serve can often only support their daughter’s education up to a certain point, we work with parents to help them understand the long-term benefit and importance of educating their girls. Additionally, we provide financial support when needed (scholarships/income offsets/loans) to allow the girls to continue their studies.
The education at EYC goes beyond the classroom. Programming such as sports, music, leadership development, and travel offers additional opportunities for kids to learn life skills, and these skills are particularly crucial for the girls. For example, we have seen that when a girl participates in a sport, she gains strength and confidence and feels more comfortable expressing herself. Through EYC programs, we help empower young women to become leaders who create positive change for themselves, their families, and their communities.
The health services (medical and dental) offered by EYC are another way we can help support the girls in building their confidence and self-esteem. An example of this is a young girl who felt very self-conscious as she was missing her front teeth. Her family couldn’t afford for her to have her teeth fixed, nor did they didn’t think it was necessary. We were able to work out a loan with her family so that our dental partner could fix her teeth. This has significantly changed her life and her attitude.
We are also working on educating girls around their health so that they can be more in control of their futures. The chance to participate in the range of activities offered at EYC helps girls open their minds and broaden their perspectives. They learn that they don’t need to stay home and do household work but that they can be a part of the larger society. This exposure allows them to make choices around how they want to live their lives.