Cham Bunthet is a personal development trainer and a lecturer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is known as a social and political commentator in the country. Currently, he is a founder of the Youth Leadership Ambassador which empowers young people to foster their leadership skills.
Q: You are running the Young Leadership Ambassador. Could you tell me a bit about your project?
Bunthet: I want to organize a community where young people can learn leadership skills. I think we lack the good leaders in Cambodia. Many people believe that youth can’t do the jobs. They think young people can’t do the job, or young people are too young to do the job, and so on. Then, I organized this association which is managed by young people, led by young people and worked for young people.
I have seen positive impacts on adults. Some adults joint the workshops and conferences with young people. Our youth group focuses on organizing leadership conferences, workshops, seminars, training, dialogues, and discussion. We mobilized trainers to share their experiences with other young people. Sometimes we don’t offer the event for free, and sometimes we charged to pay the venue. We don’t earn profit through our program.
Q: Have you observed the differences between young boys and young girls regarding social development or leadership engagement?
Bunthet: We have seen many cases in society. Young girls still have a closed mindset. They dare not to expose themselves to society. I don’t generalize. I have seen only four or five young girls who are more exposed. They disclose themselves. They behave so well in the communities. They are more impactful and have great potential to influence others. However, there is still a small number. For instance, among 15 young girls whom I am working with currently, I see only three young girls who are more exposed. I observe that the rest are struggling with their families. Their families are not fully supporting them. That’s why they are not able to foster their skills or expose themselves to society.
Q: Despite being discouraged by family, are there any factors that discourage young girls to engage in the social works?
Bunthet: I think our society encourage young girls to participate in the development. However, they are not brave to participate in the social or leadership works. I think that three factors that influence the ways that young girls engage in society. First, it is the family factor. Second, it is about themselves. Third, it is about their education. Many young girls study more than one subjects at the same time. So, they spend all of their times in classes. So, they don’t have time to experience other things outside of the academic environment. They don’t have time to foster their practical skills. So, what they can learn is the academic theory in classes. I think it is a big problem—studying many subjects at the same time.
Q: But I have heard a lot that the gender inequality and the culture and tradition discourses that do not encourage or push girls to be in school. What do you think about this?
Bunthet: I think it is a big issue in society. It starts with the family. As I mentioned earlier that family does not yet encourage young girls to participate in the social works, the family’s behavior reflects the society as a whole. Let me reflect it in this way. If a family doesn’t give chances to their daughters, what do you expect from society? Society is a group of families. All decisions that happen in the families reflect the reality of the society. The family plays a significant role in arranging a system that disempowers women. They establish a system that makes women feel vulnerable, afraid, and shy. So, women are not able to hold the top positions. Our society teaches women and girls to shame, not to shine. We show them to be shy and afraid. We do not encourage them to break those barriers.
Q: Do you think where we should start to promote more girls and women in rathe social development works?
Bunthet: Firstly that should start from women themselves. You have to remember that you can’t ask the people who are oppressing you to release you from that system. They are not confident enough to free you from the system. Women need to work out the release yourself from the system. It would help if you build your foundation. You need to love yourselves the most. You have to be the person who is confident union yourself the most.
Secondly, women need to support each other because women experience oppression in o society. You need to work together to release yourselves from this system.
Lastly, I would say it is about family. Many mothers wanted to have freedom when they were young, but they restricted their daughters when they have daughters. Mothers are a powerful force to empower their daughters. The family should encourage and motivate girls, provide them chances to build their capacity, and give them poverty to make decisions, especially on what they want to pursue in their lives.
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