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Increasingly, Cambodian Women Seeking Higher Education Abroad

Students walk out of Santhormok examination center on the first day of grade 12 examination, on August 24th, 2015. (Photo: Pang Chamnan/VOA Khmer)

More than 50 percent of Cambodia’s population is female, and many see the new generation as a catalyst for change.

Cambodian women face many obstacles to success in education, including domestic violence and sexual violence, but an increasing number of them are seeking higher education and more work skills.

More than 50 percent of Cambodia’s population is female, and many see the new generation as a catalyst for change. Women who have made it to advanced degrees say they want to see even more women follow them.

That includes women like Sann Socheata, a doctoral student for road safety at Queensland University of Technology, in Australia.

“The country will develop rapidly when both men and women obtain good educations and actively participate in building society,” she told VOA Khmer recently.

Chea Phalla, who is earning a master’s degree in public policy at Oxford University, in the UK, told VOA Khmer that women should “dream big and pursue higher education.”

“Cambodia needs our active participation to prosper,” she said. That means looking for scholarships and other opportunities, she said. “What I achieved here can be a strong message to many women that they can dream big and pursue higher education.”

But while some Cambodian women are seeking to improve their futures, many face daily struggles that can hold them back. Poverty, abuse, trafficking, poor healthcare and even social norms that keep girls out of school can all be obstacles to their education and success.

That means major structural and ideological changes must take place to open more doors for women, especially those in impoverished, rural areas. Support from family and friends is a good place to start, successful women say.

“In Cambodia today many families value education, and I am proud to see that our social structure has become more open to acknowledge the importance of women acquiring good educations,” said Hour Thany, a doctoral candidate in international development at Michigan State University.

With education and skills, women are not only actively participating in building their communities, but also fostering their children. This helps ensure the strong social wellbeing of future generations, said Pen Rany, a doctoral candidate in the humanities at the University of Sydney.

“With a good education, women, as mothers, also spend a lot of time nurturing and taking care of our children, to make sure they grow up in good shape,” she said. “And this is important as the country keeps moving forward.”