cambodia-equality
Training and Development

Cambodia: Empowerment and Equality via Technology

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Four-fifths of the population live and work in rural areas in this agrarian society in south-east Asia that borders Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. And education levels are very poor outside of the capital, Phnom Penh, and urban areas: for example, in the countryside areas of Mondol Kiri and Rattanak Kiri, almost half (46%) of women have no formal education at all (data from the 2010 Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey – funded by organisations including US Aid and UNICEF).

Technology – through education and websites – is making a positive difference by giving women in Cambodia the opportunity to realise the possibilities of alternative careers away from the traditional roles, fulfill their potential and share experiences. Women head up one fifth of households in the country, and they make up the emotional and financial backbone of many more families. These women need to access information via technology in order to learn, communicate and find out about their basic rights and opportunities for their personal wellbeing, health and safety.

Empowering young people is critical as 70% of the population is under the age of 35, according to statistics from Feed the Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative. It’s important to encourage Cambodia’s young, particularly girls, to consider a career in technology. And using technology to empower women is another way in which the country can move forward from its traumatic recent history and develop economically and as an equal society.

For instance, there is now an understanding that Cambodian women need better and faster information about their rights to empower themselves and fight against the sadly too frequent instances of violence against women (VAM). A UN report in 2013 found that more than one in five Cambodian men had admitted to raping a woman – with more than half of men committing their first rape before the age of 20.

The Women’s Empowerment for Social Change initiative puts ICT at the centre of its mission to help women know and exercise their rights via a women’s web portal which aims to make relevant information easily accessible online for women’s groups across Cambodia, so activists and campaigners can then disseminate this information throughout the female population. It also acts as a forum for discussion.

Sharing experiences and information is crucial to remove the stigma of VAW, as Javier Sola, director of NGO the Open Institute, explains:

“One of the main issues in VAW is that it is considered normal within families and it is not reported in many cases, as it stigmatises the victim, who prefers it keep it secret so as not to endanger her future.”

The Open Institute works with the Ministry of Women's Affairs to develop positive policies opposing VAW. The institute also collates data on VAW and on how it is perceived by the press, playing an important role in highlighting this violation of human rights and educating men that violence against women is wrong in every situation.

The other important project works within the education system. It is aimed at helping girls and young women by promoting equality across the sexes with regards to education and employment in IT.

The Open Institute writes the official ICT education textbooks for the ICT courses in the last two years of high school for the Ministry of Education. As Javier Sola explains, it’s a perfect opportunity to promote the message that women have just as much right to an education and a career as men:

“We aim to ensure that both male and female students receive in their education a sense of an equal work environment in which both men and women have similar roles. Through the textbooks, we attempt to develop critical thinking in the students and provide the same skills to both sexes.”

So how do the textbooks ‘sell’ a career in IT? Sola continues: “In grade 12, the curriculum is about vocational orientation to ICT careers. The goal of this course is to drive more students towards productive careers in IT, and to ensure that the number of women who choose IT careers increases. The textbooks present not only the technical part, but also the human part of the different careers (programmer, systems engineer, etc.). We want to give students, and especially girls, a taste of what each career is about. We also want women to lose the fear of going into these careers by realising by themselves that they can do the work, losing the fear of possibly failing because they are not able to follow the studies.”

 

Soraya Moeng is a London-based journalist and editor with over 15 years' experience across a wide range of sectors. Formerly deputy editor of Financial World, she has also worked as a radio journalist, charity editor and copywriter for a number of blue-chips. Follow Soraya on Twitter @moeng_s

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Soraya Moeng

Soraya Moeng is a London-based journalist and editor with over 15 years' experience across a wide range of sectors. Formerly deputy editor of Financial World, she has also worked as a radio journalist, charity editor and copywriter for a number of blue chips. Follow Soraya on Twitter @moeng_s

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