This week Kim and I were lucky enough to attend the ASEAN Civil Society conference 2012, which is a huge meeting of Asia's leaders to discuss how issues such as equality, human rights and HIV/Aids can be helped.
When Mam Sitha first sprung this on us at 9am on the day of the conference that started at 8am, Kim was concerned we wouldn’t be dressed appropriately, but I assured her I’d been to some other conferences and that we would be fine, naive some might say....
We arrived late and stumbled into a hall full of suited and booted Asian leaders in the middle of the deputy Prime minister of Cambodia's speech....needless to say our baggy pants and vests were not the attire that was required, but we were there now and people were rather welcoming after the initial stare.
It was a great day, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a speech and people seemed assured that he would keep his promises, (this surprised me as it is the Prime Minister himself that is responsible for most of the land conflicts we have been working on at HROTP.) The speech ended with the Deputy Prime Minister being asked to bang a drum to officially open the conference, he left shortly after on a red carpet with a huge band playing either side of him.
The following day I attended a workshop on Women’s Rights and Non-Discrimination where Vietnams Women’s Union did a presentation on Domestic Violence and The National Education Partnership Organisation from the Philippines spoke about the changes that were needed to ensure equal education for men, women and children.
Their strategies were very progressive and unlike a lot of Khmer people they didn’t believe in following in the footsteps of western countries. They showed graphs which showed that men’s pay worldwide was dramatically higher and that no matter how advanced the country is, people are still confined to choosing jobs that fit the stereo types they have been raised in. They concluded that it’s important to change the way they educate their children. They intend to do this by promoting gender equality through student textbooks and providing career counselling to encourage children to be open to ideas that don’t fit the gender stereo types they think they need to for fill.
It’s amazing that 99% of the people I have met in Cambodia have never left their country let alone South East Asia and yet they have such a firm grasp of correcting education before we educate. I spoke to the lady from The National Education Partnership Organisation after the speech and explained to her how much I respected her ideas on changing the text books and getting rid of gender binary, and she asked about England and why that wasn’t possible, she was sad to hear that our government was capitalising on gender and class issues and she hopes her country will be able to make these changes in spite of their corrupt government.
She gave statistics that they plan to give to the government to show how equality and rights to education will help Cambodia
• 72 Million Children are out of school, 54% of those children are girls
• 759 million adults are illiterate, 64% of those adults are women
• On average Asia looses 80 billion US dollars a year due to the lack of women’s education
I left the conference feeling inspired and excited for South East Asia, even believing that perhaps they could maybe one day be educating the west on how equality can benefit our countries, this was until I stepped back into the main hall and realised that 99% of the room was male, and with a government that takes peoples human rights for what seems like no apparent reason was probably a lot further from equality than us.