Cambodia's Young Women at the Helm: A Democracy Success Story

The USAID-created initiative #LetGirlsLearn is more than just a popular hashtag raising awareness around the world about women’s inequality in education, but rather a call-to-action for governments, civil society organizations and civic leaders to take meaningful and decisive steps towards advancing women’s education globally. 

As a long-time proponent of youth’s rights across Southeast Asia, IRI has been at the vanguard of the fight for greater gender equality and youth advancement in Cambodia.  In coordination with the historic visit by First Lady Michelle Obama to Cambodia and to highlight the tremendous work that IRI does in Cambodia for youth activism and women’s empowerment, the U.S. Mission to Phnom Penh requested IRI submit prominent young women for the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Event and the First Lady’s Roundtable Discussion.

Among the special guests that IRI submitted for the event were Ms. Ly Sivheng and Ms. Phong Sambo, two young women leaders from the IRI-supported Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC), a youth directed and driven organization that campaigns in all 24 provinces of Cambodia for greater youth inclusion in political processes, and Linda Eang, the winner of the IRI-produced television show, “Next Generation.”  The “Next Generation” television show is a debate competition which brings together 24 Cambodian youth to engage in a weekly debate which culminates in a vote that narrows down the competitors until only three debaters remain.  Given her articulate and captivating speaking style, Linda won the third season of “Next Generation” as well as a 10 day study-tour to Washington D.C.  Her trip instilled in her a renewed sense of public service as well as a dedication to increasing the profile of young women in policy discussions and debate.

When girls learn how to read and think, they can fully participate in their community and it help to build a stronger community.

Linda was afforded the unique opportunity to attend the First Lady’s visit to Siem Reap for the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Event and First Lady’s Roundtable Discussion.  And aside from some Instagram worthy photos and a big hug from Michelle Obama, Linda’s big take away was a renewed sense of the collective commitment that Cambodian women share in working towards improving young women’s ability to make an impact in their community.   And there is no better place to practice this ethos than in education.  Linda recalled from the First Lady’s discussion with prominent young Cambodian women, “When girls learn how to read and think, they can fully participate in their community and it help to build a stronger community.”

In preparation for the historic 1993 general election, IRI began its work in Cambodia to strengthen accountability, expand transparency and increase access to information for everyday voters.  Since that time, IRI’s programming has shifted to focus on the tremendous demographic opportunities that Cambodian women and youth possess for building a more inclusive their society.  From IRI’s work with YCC, to its innovative “Next Generation” television series, IRI is proud of its storied history of supporting youth activism and women’s empowerment throughout Cambodia.  Though significant challenges remain for Cambodia’s fledgling democracy, with dynamic young women leaders like Ly Sivheng, Phong Sambo or Linda Eang at the helm, Cambodia is certain to be in good hands.

IRI’s work in Cambodia and this project are funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Posted by

Theodore Wilhite

Assistant Program Officer, Asia Division