Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Life in rural Cambodia today for a young girl looks very different from that of a young woman growing up in the western world. As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to forget the privileges we have because of the country and society we are born into.
In 2019, it was reported that 76.19% of Cambodia's population live in rural areas. A young woman born in these rural areas of Cambodia has little to no prospects for creating a better life for herself.
Village life for a young woman in Cambodia is tough. With gender inequality at the heart of the community, girls are often seen as “homemakers”. From a very young age, girls are expected to assume domestic work around the home. They are never enrolled in primary education and many fail to complete their elementary studies. For many families, the idea of educating their daughters is neither understood nor accepted.
It is estimated that 50% of young girls in rural communities in Cambodia are illiterate.
Therefore, young girls who grow up in these communities, are left with a bleak future. Poor and rural girls are especially vulnerable to unsuitable marriages and are often traded off to a wealthier, and in most cases, an older man in the community. Many of these marriages are not legally binding, and with no legal protection, the young girl is often subject to a life of physical and mental abuse.
Due to the lack of education and services available, adolescent pregnancy remains a major health concern in Cambodia. Girls growing up in rural communities are twice as likely to become pregnant. They have even less access to knowledge about sexual and reproductive health.
40% of rural women face logistical difficulties in accessing a health facility.
Maternity complications are one of the leading causes of death for Cambodian women. The lack of access to proper health care means that pregnant young girls often receive assistance from unqualified midwives. These are usually women in the community with no medical education. The care they give can be dangerous for both mother and baby. The vast majority of deaths surrounding pregnancy could be prevented through good quality care during the pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.
90% of people living in rural Cambodia live in poverty. This means young girls are vulnerable to repeated cycles of domestic violence and abuse. The society they are born into makes it hard for them to escape.
More than 65% of these young women are farmers, and women are responsible for 80% of food production. Most of this labour is unpaid, subsistence agriculture. Without education and legal protection, finding off-farm employment in non-exploitative trades is near impossible.
So why are young girls that grow up in rural communities so vulnerable to a life of poverty and oftentimes, abuse? Cambodian women do not have long-standing or well-established networks of women's guilds. The lack of education inhibits women’s understanding of their rights to equality and protection under the law.
How can you help break the poverty cycle for these young women? At Women Going Beyond, we are dedicated to supporting young women in South East Asia. By offering students social and emotional learning, as well as advanced science and technology classes, gives them the opportunity to build a better future for themselves.
Together we can make a difference to these young women's lives.