Sovattha Neou: Don’t say ‘no’ to opportunity

Sovattha Neou is the Country Director of CARE Cambodia. She has worked as the Executive Director of WaterSHED for about four years prior to her role at CARE Cambodia. Sovattha has worked on social development, good governance, water and sanitation, and gender equality since 2003, right after graduation from the veterinary major at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Water and toilet are essential needs for humans. “We can’t live without a toilet and water to wash our body and hands,” Sovattha says. “These are what we need,” she adds. Sovattha is happy with what she has done with nonprofit organizations that positively impacted the Cambodian community and the country. Sovattha says that the impacts of her work on community lives motivated her to keep striving to promote sustainable water and sanitation development in Cambodia.

Low women’s participation in the water and sanitation sector

There is enormous progress in Cambodia’s water and sanitation sector, yet women’s participation in the sector seems to progress slowly. Sovattha observes that women’s participation remains significantly low, especially in leadership positions, even though progress has been made. “Advocacy roles is the role of project or program manager or executive director; thus, fewer women hold these positions,” Sovattha explains.

A lack of encouragement dampens women and girls from participating in the water and sanitation sector. Sovattha heard that some people dishearten young people who study water engineering, while the major is challenging and requires five years to complete. Moreover, a low opportunity for women to hold leadership positions remains a challenge to promote women’s participation.

What Sovattha had learned during her time with WaterSHED

Sovattha has learned technical skills such as latrine construction, water purification, and faecal sludge management at WaterSHED. These skills were new to her when she first started with the organization. WaterSHED also worked on research and development that required in-depth knowledge in the field, which Sovattha was lacking. “I was open to let stakeholders know what I needed to learn; my stakeholders supported me,” Sovattha says. She adds, “the most important thing is that you know how to ask for help.”

Engaging in the water and sanitation sector becomes easier for women and girls because a Women in WASH network supports women and girls. This Women in WASH provides technical and soft skills support to women and girls who begin working or face challenges in the field. These skills include latrine constriction, faecal sludge management, guiding principles on the water and sanitation sector, hygiene market, and water quality management.

Sovattha is inspired by her mother to be a strong and independent woman

The strength of Sovattha’s mother motivated her to be a strong and independent woman. Sovattha’s mother became the breadwinner after her father got traffic accidence when she was young. Her mother worked tirelessly to send her sister and her to school while taking care of her father impacted by accident.

Sovattha has learned that women may face tremendous challenges if they can’t earn income when a crisis hits. Her life experience motivated her to study hard to support herself and her family. “I want to be like my mother. If anything happens, I can be a breadwinner for my family,” she says.

Don’t say ‘no’ to opportunity

Sovattha encourages young people to participate in the WASH sector in Cambodia. “You don’t’ need to study water engineering, water, and sanitation, or public health to work in the WASH sector,” she says. “The WASH sector is for everyone,” she adds.

Sovattha also reminds young women and girls to accept leadership roles. She said that the leadership role will teach them to do better. “Don’t say ‘no’ to opportunity,” she says. “You need to know your strength and weaknesses so that you can perform your job better,” she adds.

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