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Realities of Being Born a Girl in Cambodia: Meet Simouy

Simouy’s story follows the trajectory of so many of our students who have overcome significant obstacles to find their talent and shape their futures. However, like other young women, Simouy faced additional challenges and inequities because of her gender.  She credits EYC with helping her see that she could be more than how her culture defined her.

As a student, Simouy participated in all EYC opportunities including English, Computers, mountain biking, leadership development, and job placement.  With scholarship support from EYC, Simouy graduated in 2017 from university with her degree in Sociology.  She currently works for a non-profit organization called Women’s Network for Unity that focuses on sex workers and their children.  The mission of WNU is to connect these women to a supportive network, advocating for them and educating them on their rights, providing greater access to social services, and helping to free them from violence and discrimination.

Simouy is in the process of applying for her Master’s Degree in Gender Studies. Following is an excerpt from her application:

“While there are many challenges I could share about my organizational work, I want to focus on the challenge of being born a girl in this society, because it is at the core of my life, my study, and my career. The challenges for women in Cambodia run through all aspects and all phases of their lives. As soon as I was born, my life – who I would be and what I would do — was already designed by family and cultural traditions.

When I was in grade six, my parents’ business collapsed, so they decided to ask my older sisters to stop studying so that my brothers could go to school. I was so curious as to why they asked my sisters and not my brothers. This was one of my earliest lessons in how much girls were treated differently.

It was seen as not necessary for me to get a good education, and certainly not to go to university, because I was supposed to get married, form a family, and raise them in a traditional way. I was told to sacrifice myself for my brothers because they did need to pursue higher education and be the leaders of their families.

But education is the only path to opportunity and choice for women, so when I was 13 and Empowering Youth Cambodia opened a neighbourhood school (Aziza) near my house, I jumped at the rare chance for free education. Through EYC, which treated boys and girls equally, I met many foreign teachers and donors who helped me see what I was capable of and prepared me for moving on to university.

When I was in university, where probably 80% of my teachers were men, there were many unspoken ways that women were treated differently from men. For example, small study groups were usually led by men; it was not seen as polite for women to directly question or challenge the teachers, and there were no courses focused on women’s health, sexuality, etc. This never made sense to me, and I chose to speak up whenever I experienced something that felt unfair. Often, my teachers would respond by ignoring me, giving me lower grades, or just being angry that they were being challenged.

In my work and volunteer experiences, I have encountered many situations where I was more skilled or capable than others but where there were challenges to do the tasks because of being a woman.

There are countless women in Cambodia who do not see a possibility for themselves beyond being a traditional wife, who aren’t exposed to mentors who help them develop their skills and who don’t have the educational opportunities I have.

I would say my success so far has come both from the support I have gotten and from not accepting the traditional limits on women in Cambodia. There is a saying here: “Women should not leave the stove.” But, education has been the key for me to speak up, expose myself to the public, and search for opportunities to become who I am today.”

Simouy is committed to using her talents to create a different future for other girls and women.


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