This was recently posted on Woman Deliver. I’m re-posting it here!
A narrow one-way lane leads to a dirt track about 5 hours south of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. To one side of this dirt track sits a small one room shack where Srey Pha, her elder brother, younger brother and parents all live together. Srey Pha’s mother, Hean Ra, couldn’t attend school because she had to help her mother with the house chores and take care of her younger siblings. When she was 16, a local farmer who knew her parents asked for her hand in marriage. After a year of steady pressure by her parents, she relented and agreed to marry a man 10 years her senior. She now hopes her daughter will have a better future. “I advise my daughter to study hard, I tell her if you don’t study you will regret it, end up like me. I want her to be a teacher or a health worker”.
This is the story of one family, but it is also the experience of thousands of families across the globe in many poor countries. Parents who have little education, who cannot read or write, and are struggling to put food on the table – always hope their children will have a better life. The importance of education in determining life choices is clear to those who live in places where schooling is all that stands between them and a life of deprivation. And the importance of sending girls to school is clear to their mothers who understand that schooling equates to decision making power. And it’s clear to us that the only way to ensure Srey Pha along with tens of millions of other girls who should be in primary school receive the education they deserve, requires a global campaign. This is why with 75 years of development programming under our belt, Plan International has launched a campaign to ensure all girls can access and enjoy their right to an education.
Parents make sacrifices so they can send all their children to school. But these struggles and choices are not free from value judgments. If parents can only afford to send one child to school, they will choose to send their son to school instead of sending their daughter, because they believe she will marry one day and the returns on her education will be transferred to her husband’s family. Proverbs such as ‘educating your daughter is like watering another man’s garden’ depict the general attitude in many regions about girls schooling. And yet we know the only way to ensure sustainable changes in health and livelihoods, is by educating girls who will one day be mothers and transfer all the gains of their education onto their children.
Changing attitudes is a slow process. But by changing legislation and policy where necessary, and mobilizing girls and boys, families and decision makers at all levels to support the call for girls empowerment – lasting change can and will be achieved. Through community engagement at the grass roots level, by fostering dialogue and encouraging discussion on issues that have till now been taboo, such as early and forced marriage, Plan is opening a space for change. Our work at the local level is joined by our international efforts and together we believe the ‘Because I am a Girl’ movement will transform the lives of millions. Not just the girls who directly benefit from our efforts and support, but their families, their communities and ultimately their entire country.
We are proud to be one of the top 10 advocacy and policy campaigns to be chosen by Women Deliver, and our faithful supporters, for the 101st International Women’s Day. Our success is the hope of millions of girls who are already benefitting from Plan’s programs in over 68 countries. We invite partners, campaigners and activists to join our movement and change girl’s lives. It’s up to us all to make sure Srey Pha and girls like her across the globe get the chance to fulfill their dreams and reach for the stars.