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Her community and she herself need to know she can be more than a shopkeeper and a man's wife

I still vividly remember the day I got to know a passionate girl who still wanted to continue her study badly but she had to quit school because she is the eldest daughter who should rather work to support her brothers’ education. She told her story while tears were also falling. I could not help it, but cried as well. It was when I was in grade 7. We were selling some snacks during a religious ceremony in a pagoda. When there was no one buying our food, we happened to be discussing about schools. She asked me what grade I was in. I said 7. She said “Oh…, I could have seen you again at the high school, you know, if I were to continue my studies.” Her eyes turned red. I knew something was wrong. “What grade are you in now?” I asked. “6” she answered. “But I won’t be going to high school because my parents have already decided that I have to quit,” she added. Her tears started to fall. My heart broke. I knew at that moment that again it is because she’s a girl. Still I asked her “why” just to confirm my assumption. “My parents cannot afford. I have two other brothers who are in grade 5 now. I need to help my parents earning money to support their education. We will have to buy them a bicycle and new clothes for them next year,” she replied. “But why not for you as well?” I asked. “They don’t have money. I’m the eldest sister. I’m responsible for my younger siblings. I have to sacrifice for them.” She cried harder at this moment. I then cried as well.
If you have noticed, there are two barriers here--poverty and also cultural factor. Her family was poor and her parents prioritize her brothers to having higher education.

Patriarchy was there long time ago. In the past, only boys got to receive education at pagoda with monks as tutors. In this modern time, there are schools for both boys and girls, but not everyone think girls should have high education. Yet, there is this strong burden placing on them to be responsible for the family’s welfare, especially when she is the eldest child. Generally, people believe that she does not need high education because she won’t go anywhere far away from domestic sphere. Her future is a wife of a man who will be taking care of her. But before that, she should just help her parents earning money along.

It is kind of understandable about the history of how women took turn to be the breadwinners or part of this role. After the Khmer Rouge, because most men were killed and the male survivors are mostly disabled or crippled because of landmines, many wives became the ones responsible for family welfare. Yet, what I don’t understand about my country is since when that girls or women are considered to be the most suitable for performing jobs that the public could get to see her out-look. If you go to a market in Cambodia, you see mostly girls or women who are selling stuff. Men come buy things while teasing her along. Most people find it weird to see a male seller/shopkeeper except for some middle class Sino-Cambodian with their big grocery stores. General perception is that female sellers attract more customers.

As the result, middle class and lower class family who face financial crisis often go for picking daughters to quit schools and join them earning money.

It means that even now there are enough schools for boys and girls, the alternative of pursuing economic income can be a strong barrier for why middle and lower class parents are not encouraging their daughters to go for higher education.
Hence, first solution I think is urgent is to change the perception that girls only should do all this little little business and boys should go for higher education to become a doctor or an engineer. Both the elders and youths should be pushed to start thinking differently, to change the perspective. For youths, this could be done at schools/universities and for the elders; this could be done through small community discussions.

Developing women leaders could be another tool to break the conventional role of girls and women. If there are more women working in higher/official positions, parents would start to see values of high education. Institutions similar to AUW where girls and women are encouraged to think out of the box, in this case not only about economic aspect, are highly needed. We want to let all girls and women recognize that they too have intelligent capacity to pursue different societal and political roles, not just a shopkeeper and a man's wife.


nifkinz's picture

It is always very frustrating

It is always very frustrating to me to read of how once again the girls' futures are the expendable ones. Sure, pull them from school, they don't need the education anyway. :( So sad. So many bright young minds not giving the opportunities to flourish. I hope that with enough voices united on these various topics, that maybe we can see some change in the future, even if only small at first.

Becky Frary

Thanks Becky for reading. I know this is so sad. I myself am lucky to be able to still come this far to be getting university education only because I did my best to resist the barrier and also because I manage to remain on top in school. Otherwise, I would have had the same future like the girl I talked about above.

Yet, because I get to study abroad and some other girls are doing well and getting high-paid jobs because they get high education, people in my community are changing their perception about girls bit by bit now. Hopefully, we'll have more of them understand that girls too are capable and have enough potentials, not just boys.

With love,

Klaudia Mexico's picture

Developing women leaders

My own experience tells me that is a powerful tool to change our destinies. I wish you all the luck and keep rising your voice.

Klaudia González

sarenkeang's picture

Thanks for the encouragement

Thanks Klaudia for reading and encouraging. Indeed, I will definitely keep raising my voice. I hope I will surely make great change in the future.

with love,

Hello Saren!

Thank you for sharing your story and determination to be a positive role model for the Khmer girls and their families in Cambodia. YES, it is important to change the perception and value of girls as educated, successful business women and contributor to the community and society. I love to hear more about your plans and how you would like to create the change in Khmer culture and society.

There are many Khmer American girls pursuing education and careers while taking care of their siblings, parents and families, often working more than the average male. It is not fair but as these girls break the gender, class barriers, they are achieving success for not only themselves but for other women in their communities. Their voices are needed to raise awareness and create effective education and work programs for young girls to believe in themselves.

I encourage you to continue your studies and mentor Khmer girls and their families to be part of the dream.
Keep writing, leading and advocating for educational access for all children not based on gender.

With Gratitude,

Linda M. Ando

I would love to do as many things as I can to create the change in Cambodia. So far, what I'm doing is to make people start talking and discussing about the issue, to encourage them to think critically why they don't believe in high education for girls when girls/women are actually just as capable as the males are. I raise up examples about women leaders all over the world. We can always start doing this from our family, with our friends and small discussion groups. This writing and debates on different social media are also another space I can advocate about the issue. I plan to do more when I'm there in Cambodia in December. I'll have to look at the current context once again first before coming with new ideas/plans.

I'm glad to hear about the Khmer American girls' success. I hope they'll continue to impress us despite all the hard-works.
Thanks for sharing this. & thanks again for the encouragement. I will definitely do my best to create the change.

With love,

Saren, I LOVE your spirit and determination to inspire people and communities by engaging in dialogue, planting the seeds of possibilities. Great to start wherever you can, one person inspired turns into another and another!

Are you connected with Sarvina Kang who was a World Pulse Correspondent in Cambodia. She would be a great mentor for you, please connect with her.

Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your ideas and efforts. You are already making a difference and planting seeds of change and hope.

With Gratitude,

Linda M. Ando

Emily Garcia's picture

Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this story and speaking out for girls' right to education. I agree that developing women leaders, such as yourself, to educate others or show by example how far girls can dream and achieve will make such a great impact. Thank you again for your post and for all you do. Keep up the good work!!

Best wishes,


Emily Garcia
World Pulse Online Community Lead

Catsilveira's picture

thank you

Thank you for sharing this.. Is just great to read an inside account of what is going in Cambodia.
You left me wondering here about a couple of things: one about you: what challenges did you have to face in order to pursuit your education?
and one about your country: are there national policies put in place to help society overcome those two barriers you mentioned? In Brazil for example we have a social program called “bolsa familia”. Families are provided with a small – yet monthly and reliable – income and one of the conditions to get the benefit are that the kids must attend school classes. Although there are different opinions about the program it has proved to bring position impact on income generation and school attendance.

all the best to you,


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