Dear Michelle Bachelet and members of the UN Women Executive Board,
I am honored and privileged to present the issues facing my country. I am also grateful and excited for your new post as the Executive Director of UN Women. I am sure you will give hope to all women around the world.
There is a proverb in Cambodia that asserts that men are like gold, women like a fresh white piece of linen. Even if gold is put in the fire, it remains unharmed. A white piece of linen, as soon as it has one blemish, is no longer of any use to anyone. The idea that girls and women are disposable commodities still prevails in Cambodian society, aggravated by the disproportionate value placed on virginity. Even if a girl is drugged and raped, her value as a desirable wife becomes nil. The victim is held responsible and she is burdened with the shame of having brought dishonor to the family.
As a student and a volunteer with Soroptimist International (an NGO in Phnom Penh), I am led by my heart to empower women and girls. I am concerned with rampant sex trafficking in Cambodia and the underlying issues of poverty and lack of education.
Prostitution often takes a covert form—it takes place in brothels in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand, and also in massage parlors, karaoke bars, and more hidden outlets. Women and girls migrating from rural to urban areas and across the border to Thailand are especially vulnerable to the violation of their rights as they fall prey to the growing sex industry.
Inadequate education puts many girls and young women in danger of being sold or duped into the sex industry. Or they are forced to make this choice when no alternatives are available. Poverty, illiteracy, family problems, and gender discrimination create a fertile breeding ground for trafficking, exploitation, rape, and abuse.
Education in Cambodia is still limited for those who live in rural areas and in poorer parts of the cities. Most poor families are uneducated, or only finish primary school. We need to encourage and empower all girls to get an education so they can avoid being trafficked into the sex industry.
I would love to ask help from UN Women to recover the lives of poor people in Cambodia. Help us provide a better education system—especially for those who live in rural areas. Help us educate women and men to understand gender inequality so that we can end gender discrimination and give value to each person’s life.
Sarvina Kang Phnom Penh, Cambodia