Time to Change Gender Stereotypes: Encourage Cambodian Women to Choose TVET Careers 

A street vendor pushes her cart loaded with soft drinks for sale along the waterfront of the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh on September 4, 2023. Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP

Cambodia is a patriarchal society. Social norms, stereotypes and gender roles are deeply entrenched, with men often considered the main breadwinners in the family while women are in charge of the household chores.

Men thus enjoy greater social consideration and freedom in their professional choices, without interference from their parents or legal guardians. For example, parents are likely to encourage their sons to become engineers, architects, electricians or construction workers, or to engage in any form of study or vocational training likely to bring in a good source of income for the family.

On the contrary, parents tend to limit their daughters’ educational opportunities. They could allow them to study finance, banking, administration, accounting, or other subjects related to office jobs as most Cambodian parents consider office work to be more in line with representations of women’s role and status in society.

One could argue these representations have a positive impact on women’s careers as these types of jobs are in high demand on the market. But they also negatively impact women’s perspectives or lives as family beliefs tend to prevent women from fully exploring their potential.

It is time for norms and stereotypes to change and for women to engage in a professional curriculum in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as the country’s development demands more workforce in specialized industries like construction, manufacturing, and electronics.

However, changing norms and social perceptions will take time as gender representations depend both on external factors (the family or the community) and internal factors, which can be defined as women’s personal choices.

According to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training’s statistic report from the academic year 2021-2022, a total of 53,576 students were engaged in the TVET Cambodia Qualification Framework 1-7 (CQF 1-7) across the country, including public technical training institutes, private technical training institutes and NGOs technical training institutes.

Of those, only 36 percent (or 19,360 people), were female students.

Greater attention should be paid to attracting women in TVET, particularly in certificate courses, which are seen as something other than traditional careers for women. To encourage more women to engage in TVET studies, proper solutions need to be enhanced to change the perception of both internal and external factors of societal norms and stereotypes. 

One of the first priorities should be to publicize TVET’s benefits among women and girls at upper secondary school, as an alternative to university after completing BAC II. TVET is not only for men and provides skills that are in high demand in the job market.

Secondly, the responsible institute or relevant stakeholders should consider a financial scheme and a scholarship program to support women’s TVET studies. The support scheme will help unleash worry about tuition fees, food, and transport – especially for women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such a scholarship program and stipend scheme will help reach the goal of the second priority of the newly established government’s Pentagonal Strategy to provide free TVET to 1.5 million youth, both men and women, from poor and vulnerable backgrounds.

Thirdly, society's attitude toward traditional social representations should change. This can be achieved by conducting grassroots platforms to explain to communities how gender stereotypes can impact women’s careers. By showing examples of role models who have broken free from gender norms and successfully entered the industrial sector, the platform will demonstrate to communities that TVET is not just for men.

Finally, the school environment should be safe and free from mental and sexual harassment. Women must feel safe during their studies and be able to stay in the dormitory if the school provides it. Inappropriate jokes at school should banned as they can make female students feel insecure.

In short, for women to overcome gender norms and engage in TVET studies, Cambodian society should first work to change social norms and perceptions of what constitutes male or female employment. This will enable young women interested in TVET to believe more in their career choices, which can be facilitated by the provision of free education and merit-based financial support by public and private technical institutes and NGOs. Finally, schools and dormitories must be safe and free from all forms of harassment, particularly sexual harassment.

Only by making these changes will Cambodia be able to attract more women to acquire specialized skills to work in high-demand sectors such as manufacturing, construction or electronics.

Hong Sochea is a Development and Social Inclusion Researcher


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