Working towards gender equity in Cambodian education

UNICEF is supporting online training in Cambodians Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to support it as it works towards greater gender equity.

Jaime Gill
© UNICEF/UN0225347/Brown
28 May 2021

Training towards gender equity throughout the Cambodian education system

Phnom Penh, April 2021 “Everyone has their own story to tell but I believe almost all women will at least once in their life have a story of gender issues and discrimination,” says Bo Chankoulika, Director of the Policy Department at Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS). Unfortunately, “gender stereotyping in society results in an inability to acknowledge gender inequalities at all levels of social systems and a failure to notice the different impact that policies have on women and men.”

Ms. Bo perfectly captures the importance of a recent, multiple part training programme on Gender and Organisational Change. The training, which took place within MoEYS, aimed to address inequalities as the Ministry changes and develops, so that gender is considered at every stage.

“Currently, we see a lot of women teachers, but far fewer in school director positions,” explains Katheryn Bennett, UNICEF Cambodia’s Chief of Education. “School directors have really important and demanding roles, setting the tone and the environment of an entire school, and if only males advance to these roles then that limits the perspectives available to shape education. There are even fewer women in positions of leadership at provincial or national level. The Ministry is making efforts to change this, and has appointed some exceptional women in key roles, but they wanted to take it to the next level and we are supporting them with initiatives like this training.”

Forty men and women within MoEYS took part in the training, with Johanne Lortie from the International Training Centre leading most sessions in collaboration with pre-selected master trainers within the Ministry. The training was funded by UNICEF through the Capacity Development Partnership Fund, a multi-partner fund involving MoEYS, the European Union, Sweden, the US Agency for International Development and the Global Partnership for Education. The training had to be rearranged several times and finally moved fully online as a result of the deteriorating COVID-19 situation across Cambodia.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2021
UNICEF Cambodia/2021

“It was certainly a challenge to adapt to the ever-changing situation,” Johanne confirms, before explaining why the training was so important that the team were determined to deliver it, no matter what difficulties they faced. “The education system is the one key institution through which socialisation - the transmissions of social values and norms - is done.” As such, it can play a key role in not only teaching young girls about their value and equality, but demonstrating it through the presence of senior women. “Equality starts in the family, but the school system plays a great role in raising awareness of parents, and other important stakeholders.”

“What I liked most about the training was the topics on individual change strategies, organisational change and institutionalisation of gender,” says Ms. Bo. The Ministry, she says, does “need to improve policies to create a conducive environment for promoting gender equality, but I strongly believe that changing the mindset and attitudes of individuals is the most effective and sustainable way to address gender issues in the workplace and society.”

“The trainers were very encouraging, demonstrating different scenarios and using teamwork to show how to tackle the gender challenge in education,” says H.E. Prak Kosal, who is in charge of early childhood education at the Ministry. “As a result, I hope all the men here will fully support women to participate at the Ministry.”

Narath Muong, deputy director of the Department of Planning, was one of the Ministry’s master trainees, both leading parts of the training and participating in others. “I actually didn’t think the training was negatively affected by going online,” he explains. “It’s a sensible decision during the pandemic, and can cost less. Now I will work to disseminate what I learnt with my colleagues and do more to encourage the participation of female colleagues in all activities. In five years from now, I want to see that women are empowered to be involved at all levels of the Ministry.”

“I would like to see a time when factors such as poverty, cultural beliefs and gender never prevent girls from obtaining quality education at all levels,” says Ms. Bo, reflecting on what she hopes the long-term impact of the training will be. “The education system will ensure girls can achieve their fullest potential and fulfill their hopes and dreams. To achieve this end, it is crucial that marginalised groups are included in education decision making in all spheres of education.”