In the week that Cambodia welcomes First Lady Michelle Obama and her ‘Let Girls Learn’ education project, we could do no better than reflecting on our own women leaders within Chab Dai. Here, we talk to Finance & Operations Director Orng Muylen, about her experience at Chab Dai and opportunities for women in Cambodia today.
After an internship at World Vision, Muylen joined Chab Dai in 2007, during her second year studying Accountancy at Phnom Penh International University. She later gained her Masters of Finance from the National University of Management, and quickly progressed from administrator to director within 5 years, now responsible for the Finance department in Chab Dai Coalition Cambodia, monitoring finances for Chab Dai overseas and overseeing operations in the organization.
As the first woman in her family to attend university, Muylen’s story is an encouraging one, though she told me this has meant many challenges along the way:
“In Cambodian culture, as in many parts of the world, men’s opinions are often respected more than women’s, whether they are right or not. If women are strong, it is said that our head is ruled by our heart, like we don't have respect. I feel like it is not appropriate for this attitude in the workplace or in society. We need to respect each other’s opinions, regardless of the person’s gender.”
“But I feel proud that I am the one daughter in my family that has studied at university and I can live in Phnom Penh by myself. Now I am confident about this and that's why I think women can do anything they set their mind to.”
Signs of change in Cambodia
With or without Michelle Obama’s historical visit (the only time an incumbent US First Lady has come to Cambodia), gender is an issue firmly on the agenda in Cambodia right now and even in Muylen’s home province of Kampong Thom, she sees signs of change:
“I think that, like with the Cambodia culture, in my community they thought that if they talk about human trafficking or rape, that is not a good word to say. Especially for the woman, they feel shame or that it's not appropriate to talk about sexual matters.
But right now, it's not like that. Everybody can say and can report, it's better than not saying, better to talk to the police. Right now, we can talk about what is true.”
Muylen also spoke with great enthusiasm about development agency The FIELD Collaborative's recent training program, 'The Seeds of Leadership' which she attended in February 2015.
Over three days of training and dialogue, 'Seeds of Leadership' aimed to increase capacity-building amongst working women in Cambodia through four tier focuses – self-improvement, leading a team, influencing your organisation and training other leaders.
Speaking on the FIELD Collaborative blog, Vice President Karen Petersen found much to inspire in the women who contribute to today's Cambodian workforce:
‘In the bustling, often chaotic capital of Phnom Penh, we are visiting several NGO’s to gain insight into the work they are doing and meet with those who are bringing change to the gender imbalance here. We have met wonderful, courageous women leaders who work in project management, operations, finance, education, legal advocacy, social work and research.'
Looking to the future, Muylen’s thoughts are overwhelmingly positive, not only in working towards ending human trafficking, but for the future of women, equality and Cambodia.
“I have never before experienced the joy and satisfaction that I now have in my work. I am grateful that God has called me here, and I have great confidence in his plan for my life. I think that I have a golden chance to serve God by helping vulnerable women see that they have the same worth as men.”*
*(Taken from Orng. M., 'Washed Clean', Issue: Autumn 2013, Mutuality magazine, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE))
Article written by Laura Gavin