By Soksambath Pichny

© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

“Helping your family is one thing, but it cannot be more important than your studies. Once you get your education, you would have more good opportunities and you can do anything and that also includes helping your family.” 

This motto has been passed down by my grandparents to my mom, and my mom to me. I was born in a family in which the female members are granted the same equal opportunities, and my right to education is wholeheartedly recognized and supported. I have the freedom to choose the future and grasp the destiny I want in my own hands. But I don’t think everyone is granted the same privilege. 

Although there are improvements in place to make education and opportunities more accessible to everyone, especially girls, there are still many without. Girls remain the more disadvantaged group compared to their male counterparts, and pre-COVID-19, 132 million girls were still out of school around the world. 

Another serious challenge that could obstruct the decades-long progress on gender equality is COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, over 11 million girls may not return to school. This could result in greater risks for many girls, including early forced marriage, violence, and adolescent pregnancy. This matters greatly and should be of serious international concern. These problems have already been happening all over the world. One in every 20 girls aged between 15 to 19 has experienced forced sex, putting them among the group that faces the highest risk of gender-based violence (GBV). Harmful cultural practices ranging from child marriage to female genital mutilation are still being forced onto countless girls every day.

Therefore, in celebration of the International Day of the Girl, we must make it our mission and top priority for every family, every community, and every nation to ensure that every girl can feel safe in their surroundings. Girls must be supported to pursue the life they want. And as individuals, we all can take our parts in achieving this by: 

  1. Assuring girls that the choices they’ve made will never be too ambitious or impossible. Support girls and women from every walk of life including in politics, arts, sports, technology and science. Join the conversation when it comes to empowering girls, protecting their access to education and other opportunities. Encourage your female friends or colleagues to speak their minds and share their thoughts. Make their voices heard by attentively listening and hearing them out.
  2. Rejecting gender stereotypes, racist and sexist attitudes. Continue condemning GBV and any harmful cultural practices. It should never be a debate in the first place because these are internationally recognized as violations of human rights and are never acceptable. Pay attention to any signs of domestic violence or sexual harassment, and seek help if you ever see or experience one.
  3. And to every girl out there, AMPLIFY YOUR VOICES AND STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHT! You deserve to have a seat at every table and to make your voices heard. But your voices would not be heard if they are not spoken in the first place. So say it loudly and proudly! Create and reshape your own future! And last of all, be your own advocate, as well as for others.

Voices of Youth Cambodia, supported by UNICEF, is a vibrant community of youth bloggers and digital content creators.

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