„We want the youth to have a voice“

Sok Sothea at the Women's Conference on Beijing+20 in Cambodia
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Sok Sothea at the Women's Conference on Beijing+20 in Cambodia

My name is Sothea, and I come from the Youth Fellowship for Democracy, an association created just one month ago in order to encourage youth to work in social development politics, public affairs and on environmental issues. We see a lot of youth with potential, but the government does not give them any opportunities to develop this potential. We want the youth to have a voice, and the government to acknowledge the problems concerning our youth today. We want the youth to reach out to the government officials and ask them whether they have the political will to increase the amount of women in politics? Do they have policies in the party to encourage young women in politics? Do they have policies in the party to encourage youth in politics? We want both the ruling and opposition party to focus on youth and young women. We hope that Cambodian women will change their attitude. Don‘t be shy! Speak out! Why don‘t you speak out? When we look at the history of our country, it takes only a handful of men to make a war, to make the people suffer. So we don‘t need to be quiet, we should voice our concern and speak out about what we want for our country in the future, otherwise the government will not know what our concerns are.

Regarding education, the government reports that the number of young girls in education has increased. However, don‘t forget that they just study three or maybe four years and then drop out, in rural and urban areas. Although the number has increased, they do not stay in education as long as boys do because their families require many girls to earn money for the family. We can see ten and eleven year old girls in the street working. In urban areas, more girls have the opportunity to continue on to high school, but girls in rural areas often do not have this opportunity.

Regarding the health of women, a lot of the support, especially the infrastructure provided by governments such as the Japanese, goes into building services such as hospitals. But how good is the service of the hospital? Do they actually care about their patients or do they just want to make money? I encourage the donors to follow up their activities and evaluate how services in hospitals or schools are actually being implemented.

Regarding the politics, we can see that young women are starting to get involved in politics, but in terms of their academic degrees, and their capacities, do they have enough capacities to properly be involved in politics? Often young girls have the will to do politics, but are they encouraged and equipped to properly participate in politics? We can see that in many cases they lack these capacities. In public affairs, we can see that young women and youth whose parents do not work in high positions or have the economic capacity to buy their position, have very few chances to work in public affairs.

We can also see that a lot of young women are forced to drop out of school to increase their income. For example, many go and work in the garment factories. This kind of work over longer periods of time is hazardous to these young women‘s health. There is poison in their bodies. As we are young women, we want to encourage young women‘s involvement in politics and public affairs, but we need the support from the political parties and the government. We want the political parties to have the political will to encourage young women in politics.

I am young, and I didn‘t participate in the Beijing Platform from 1995, but I can see that the government just achieved a small number of issues. Why can I say this? For example last year we produced a shadow report for CEDAW that the Cambodian government did not live up to its duties under CEDAW. We want the government, especially the Ministry of Women‘s Affairs, to focus their activities on promoting women‘s participation in politics. We need to face the real problems and see what has been done and what must be achieved to reach the goals of the 1995 Declaration. I don‘t want the young women to keep quiet, I want them to speak the truth.

This article first appeared in "We have come a long way...but there is still a long road ahead". Voices from Cambodia 20 years after the Beijing Conference (1995), published by Heinrich Böll Stiftung Cambodia.