“Girls do not need to learn a lot because they cannot avoid plates and pots.” This is a phrase that gets stuck in Khmer elders’ minds, and it adversely affects girls’ education, girls’ lives, girls’ societies, and girls’ countries.
Growing up in the province, I always heard this phrase, and it is a common belief that a woman is supposed to feed, support, and take care of her family. So, what is the point of receiving a high education if her future only relies on her skill in the house after the marriage? This can also influence a young girls’ stamina to continue her studies, to chase her dreams, and to change her communities.
My 44-year-old mother only finished “grade 3” in a remote area of Kompong Thom province. She mentioned that she stopped learning not because of gender expectations, but rather because the Khmer Rouge soldiers were executing their plan of killing intelligent people, who were often the teachers.
However, my mother used to hear her grandmother’s sister discouraging her female cousin from learning. But, she never let those words limit her. She believes, “if you have education, you will have a job, and your husband will not offend you.” That is why she puts so much effort into providing education to her daughters.
“Why you need to let your daughters study because they will just end up a wife?” said my neighbors to my mother.
A wife does not require education. This is what some of her neighbors say to her. Additionally, some of her relatives even urge her to let my sister and I become factory workers, so that we can have money to fulfill our needs, like buying clothes. Even though many of the people surrounding her do not approve of her decision, she is never deterred by their criticism.
In fact, my older sister and I are both currently studying outside of your province; my sister is receiving her Bachelor degree while I attend a scholarship-based school in the capital.
There is also another crucial issue that factors into the widespread problem of denying women to education: concerns over safety and security. My sister and I are away from home, which is very unusual for many Cambodian daughters.
“Be careful, they will become bad girls when they are away from home.” I am so grateful that my mother has never been influenced by her neighbor’s negative judgments by what her neighbors say, she trusts us to be capable and strong, and to appreciate all that she has given to us.
We are very fortunate that we are able to finish our education and pursue our dreams. However, it broke my heart to learn that worldwide:
- “31 million girls of primary school age drop out of school”
- “17 million are expected never to enter school, [out of 31 million]”
- “34 million female adolescents out of school”
- “116 million [young women aged 15-24] in developing countries have never completed primary school”
according to United Nations in 2013.
Unfortunately, this is still a reality for many girls around the world. It is not exclusive to Cambodia. Here specifically, the elder’s mindset and security are important factors that discourage girls to attend school.
No girls should feel oppressed by the mindsets of others, nor should they feel driven away from educational opportunities. They should be able to focus on their dream without obstacles. It is time that we fight for what is best for us and prove to the world that education is the most powerful tool that can fix our family, community, and country.
Author: Makara Poy