By Soksambath Pichny
About a month ago, I saw a Facebook post about “SHE CAN”, which is an NGO that gives scholarships to capable Cambodian girls to study in the US. Then, there was a mind-boggling comment that caught my eye: “How about HE CAN?” The commenter might have said it as a joke. But if he said it, chances are there would be others who have the same question or feel the same way.
To be honest, I have never really thought deeply about this topic before. With the current trending movement of gender equality, I always feel like it is something common, good and positive. But after reading the comments, I started to think what if men really feel excluded? What if women empowerment is actually a double-edged sword? Since there are always side effects, what if empowering women has its own side effects and that is dis-empowering men?
What is Women Empowerment?
With all of the priorities and opportunities given, girls and women’s participation in the society indeed rise up. These can be seen as unfair or unequal because the work privileges or scholarships are only for “women or girls”. In some places, girls’ participation is even higher than boys’. Even in my own class, female students outnumber male students to around two to three times. (*ahem* #girlpower). I believe this sometimes bothers the boys a lot.
I feel like all this movement is doing is bringing women up to the same level as men. Even if the opportunities and privileges are extended to women that doesn’t mean that men would enjoy theirs any less. They still would be respected, valued and able to participate freely in the society. It’s just that women would have better chances than before.
Therefore, by encouraging women or girls to learn any needed skills or knowledge, and by giving them the power to be more independent and confident, it’s what women empowerment is all about. This means that women are in the driver’s seat, directing their own lives and I don’t think by doing so would make anyone feel left out.
So, I said it! My answer is NO (all capitalized). Empowering and helping women DOES NOT leave men behind. It is a misconception.
Myth vs. Reality
The movement itself sounds really ambitious and monumental in principle. But the reality is not like that. Of course, there are improvement and progress made in gender equality. But there are still many challenges. Women are still falling behind in many sectors.
Girls’ drop-out rates are still higher than boys. The wage gap between men and women in the country is still wide. This problem doesn’t only happen in Cambodia, but it’s also happening worldwide. What really surprises me is that in order to close that kind of wage gap, it would literally take 217 years.
Moreover, with the embedded cultural norms, women’s voicing their opinions publicly is still an alien concept. Women are still largely considered as weak, less-educated and less-experienced than men, and incapable of holding higher ranks of decision-making positions. For instance, there is only 20% of women representatives in the National Assembly and only 14% in the Senate.
Therefore, women involvement in the society is heavily limited compared to men. That is why women significantly need a boost, more opportunities, and priorities.
Empowering Women, Benefiting All
I also believe that empowering women is a positive sum game in which everyone would gain, not lose. By promoting gender equality and empowering women, it means that women and girls could get better access to various opportunities, especially education. The illiteracy rate would drop if the people, especially girls, have more access to schools or learning.
Moreover, with proper education and skills, girls can have better chances of getting good jobs with good salary. That way, they can help solve the family’s financial burden, reduce poverty and overall contribute to the country’s economy as well.
Also, it is seen that the country with educated women seems to perform better than those who don’t. Therefore, by empowering women, everyone would be better off.
Changing Traditional Norms
I think the traditional roles of what girls and women should have are also a challenge when it comes to studies and jobs. For ages, men have mostly been seen as the strong and independent ones. They are the head of the family, the family’s sources of income and protection, you name it. On the other hand, the perceptions towards girls and women are totally the opposite of what I have just mentioned. Simple as that! That’s why these beliefs need to change and women need more encouragement and priorities.
Men may look at these privileges as “too in favor for women” and that is “not fair for men”. However, in reality, many girls and women are still being told that higher education is a waste of money, and that they are only suitable for lower-skilled occupations and unpaid housework.
Equal Power, Equal Voice
So, I believe that women empowerment is to ensure that women have a role and voice in the society and the society, in return, needs to hear them out. It is to make men view women as equal, and not somebody beneath them. Lastly, I think maybe it is time to see women empowerment as a positive EVOLUTION instead of a REVOLUTION.
And that’s all for this week’s blog. Thank you for taking your time reading this! Stay tuned for the upcoming blogs, and have a very nice day!
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.