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Promoting female leaders in remote Cambodian villages

Growing up with five siblings in a small village in Cambodia, Tey often faced discrimination and was not given the same opportunities as her brothers.

When she was about to begin Grade 7 her parents ordered her to drop out of school. They told her she didn’t need an education because she would get married and become a housewife and her husband would provide for her.

Tey was a promising student and the school principal told her parents that she should stay in school, but they would not change their minds.

After she was taken out of school, Tey took it upon herself to make the best out of her situation.

“Women have to build their own capacity and get involved in social work,” Tey says.

“Men should be open to this and recognise, support and provide opportunity to women.”

Women in remote communities in Cambodia can face discrimination and are often overlooked for leadership roles.

ChildFund Cambodia is working to support women and disadvantaged groups to have more opportunities in taking a lead in their communities.

Commune councils are local government bodies in Cambodia, which have historically had very low levels of female representation.

Tey found ways to prove herself while helping her father, who was a village chief. She showed she had a special skill for conflict resolution, which is one of the main duties of the commune council.

In 2012 she was elected as a member of the council, the only woman alongside six men. Despite the challenges, Tey never doubted her ability to get the job done.

A woman in International Women's Day

“I performed my tasks well and even better than the male members,” Tey says.

After eight years on the council Tey (pictured above) still sees gender equality as a key issue in her village. Many women from Tey’s generation were not given the opportunity to finish school and go on to higher education.

Kalyan, 24, is a commune developing officer at ChildFund Cambodia. She works in villages like Tey’s to ensure girls and young women are given chances.

A woman in International Women's Day

“I think women’s roles in society are as important as men’s,” Kalyan (pictured above) says. “And society must say yes to women.”

Kalyan believes that a major change will come from changing the way girls and young women in Cambodia view their role in society.

“We, women, should think that everything starts from ourselves,” Kalyan says.

She believes change starts at home.

“I think family plays an immense role in a daughter’s mindset,” Kalyan says. “If you teach a daughter to believe in herself and always be supportive, she will grow up to be an independent woman.”

Tey’s daughter is studying her master’s degree in English literature in Phnom Penh, and more women are getting the chance to finish school.

“I believe higher education is important because it brings higher capacity and it will change old attitudes,” she said.

In Tey’s village, girls and young women look up to her as a reason for why attitudes are changing. Lima and Hanfy, both age 28, say that Tey’s influence is being felt by new generations of girls in their village.

Children playing at school in Cambodia

“She’s a very focused person,” Lima says. “She is our idol and she will always be our role model.”

Kalyan believes it is important that people are able to see change because this will lead to people changing their minds.

“If we think about gender equality and we do not act on it, then it is nothing,” she says.

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