Women Empowerment: From a vet to become a commune chief
Women in rural Cambodia, especially women from poor families, have less access to get higher education which limited their opportunity to become leaders in senior positions in community based organizations, civil society organizations, companies, or the government.
To address these challenges, LWD included vulnerable rural women in its target groups; and under LWD’s Integrated Rural Development through Empowerment Programs, women are empowered to claim their rights, participate in decision making on their community development and address their concerns and needs to the duty-bearers. Trainings on capacity building for women are also included.
Ms. Pen Saophea, 32, from Prey Nheam village, Svay Chuk commune of Sameakki Meanchey district in Kampong Chhnang province, represents the success of LWD’s women empowerment activity in the four provinces of Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu.
She seized her first opportunity to be an Animal Health Worker in her village in 2004. Then, she was sent to attend a one-month training course about animal health care, organized by LWD at its field office in Tuek Phos district of Kampong Chhnang, under the technical support from the Livestock Office of the Provincial Department of Agriculture.
She said that was a volunteer job. Her core responsibilities included (1) raising awareness on animal care; (2) dissemination of animal new disease outbreak; and (3) injection of vaccination. There were two injection campaigns every year organized by the Livestock Office, facilitated by LWD.
In 2007, LWD supported the establishment of village bank in her village. At that time Ms. Saophea was requested by the bank members to stand for the election. Through the election process, she was elected as Prey Nheam Village Bank Manager. Then, she was trained by LWD field staff about village bank management.
Her good job performance was highly appreciated by the bank members, other villagers and the local authority. Then, the Chief of the Commune Council approached her twice to ask her if she wanted to work for the commune council, as Women Focal Point in charge of women and children affairs. She said that first she was reluctant. But, after thorough consideration and with motivation from her husband, in June 2009, she accepted the position. It was a one-year renewable contracted position with a monthly salary of $10.
As her capacity increased and gained trust from village bank members, in late 2009 LWD supported the establishment of Commune Bank Association. Then, she was elected as treasurer. In 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières established an Animal Health Promotion Association which consisted of 38 vets from 38 villages of four communes in the district. She then was elected as the Chairperson of the association.
Given that the Woman Focal Point position was not permanent, she decided to stand for the commune council election which was held in June 2012. “Because this is a contracted position, I have the intention to become a commune council member, so that I can become an official staff for this position,” she said. But, the result surprised her. “I am very excited to hear that I was elected as the Chief of Commune Council,” she said.
Ms. Saokea, a junior high school graduate, was proud of her success. “I am very happy because I’ve had success continuously,” she said. “I am happy because I have a chance to help my community.”
However, she gave credits to LWD that capacitated her for about eight years. “I have today because of LWD’s support,” she said. “I have used all the knowledge and experience I gained from LWD in my new position.” Some key knowledge she learned from LWD such as accountability in expense, leadership, teamwork, and so on, were applied in her daily tasks, she said.
As she has more responsibilities in her new position, she decided to resign from the positions of Village Bank Manager, Treasurer of the Commune Bank Association and vet.
Ms. Saophea dropped school after passing grade 9 in 1994 because the upper secondary school is 15km far from her house and she had no bicycle to ride to school. She has four sons, aged 17, 15, 13 and 5. The oldest studies grade 10, while the second and third child study grade 8 and 6 respectively. The youngest is in the kindergarten grade. Her husband is a farmer.
Another big success which she seemed to overlook was the transfer of her veterinary skill to her husband. She said that after she was trained to be a vet, she passed on her skill to her husband by coaching him day by day. In 2012, her husband can do her job.
In late 2012, a representative from the Department of Livestock in Kampong Chhnang advised her that the village needed to have a vet and her husband was most suitable to be the successor if he agreed and got more trainings. After discussion with her husband, she agreed to have her husband get the position.