A team of 11 Atlassians is headed to Cambodia to further our efforts in rebuilding education there. This is the first post in our series on the Atlassian Foundation’s contributions to Room to Read in Cambodia. Read more in the series here.

Challenges for girls and education in Cambodia

If you’re reading this post, you most likely have had access to both a primary and secondary education, and are presumably aware of your basic human rights. This is not the case for many young girls living in Cambodia. Challenges girls face today in Cambodia include surviving poverty, trying to earn a secondary education, improving their gender equality status, and being aware of their basic legal and human rights.

Living in poverty

The majority of the Cambodian population lives below the international poverty line, where 53 percent are surviving with under $2 per day, and 22 percent live with less than $1.25.1 Under Cambodian law, women should receive “equal pay for equal work.” In practice, however, most women receive lower wages than their male counterparts.2 In 2004, the organization Gender and Development for Cambodia stated that only 6 percent of the female workforce in Cambodia is paid.

Access to education

Traditionally, education in Cambodia was offered by the wats (Buddhist temples), thus providing education exclusively for the male population. During the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79), education suffered significant setbacks: Schools were closed, while educated people and teachers were subjected to suspicion and harsh treatment at best, and execution at worst. In the early 1970s, there where more than 20,000 teachers in Cambodia; only about 5,000 of those teachers remained 10 years later. Soviet sources report that 90 percent of all teachers were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Today, only 11.6 percent of Cambodian females complete secondary education, compared to 94.7 percent of United States females who do so.3 Compared with money, the value of education is low amongst the general Cambodian populace, resulting in many children working instead of going to school. There is widespread child labor including farming, scavenging, garment manufacture, sexual exploitation, fishing, and construction. Half of all young girls and one third of boys work, and as a result the ratio of girls to boys in school is 1:3. Additional factors keeping girls out of school include the need to take care of younger siblings and perform household duties, extreme poverty, prohibitive distances from school, and safety concerns when traveling alone to and from school.

Gender equality

Women in Cambodia, sometimes referred to as Khmer women, are supposed to be modest, soft spoken, “light” walkers (“so quiet that one cannot hear the sound of their skirt rustling”2), well mannered, industrious, and devoted to the household; they’re expected to act as the family’s caretakers, maintain their virginity until marriage, become faithful wives, and act as advisors and servants to their husbands.

This cultural perspective can delay human development for girls in Cambodia, where women are discriminated against in health, education, and the labor market. This has been noted and studied to acutely affect the overall human development of a region.3

Human rights

In rural communities, Cambodian women are generally susceptible to domestic violence, and have little legal recourse. Due to their limited education, some Cambodian women are unable to protect themselves from discrimination, gender inequality, violence, and abuse, because they are not aware of their legal rights, and are also unaware of global human rights standards.

Addressing the challenges: benefits of girls’ education4

Education empowers women to overcome discrimination. Girls and young women who are educated have greater awareness of their rights, and greater confidence and freedom to make decisions that affect their lives, improve their health, and boost their work prospects.
Education First: An Initiative of the United Nations Secretary General, 2012.

Child deaths would be cut in half if all women had a secondary education, saving 3 million lives. And all maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds if each mother completed primary education.
EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2012.

A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult.
The World Bank, 2011

An educated mother is more than twice as likely to send her children to school.
Unicef, 2010

Girls with secondary education are 6 times less likely to be married as children.
International Center for Research on Women, 2006.

If all girls had a secondary education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages.
EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2012.

A literate mother has a 50% higher chance that her child will survive past the age of 5.
UNESCO, 2011.


Fundraising for Room to Read in Cambodia


When you educate a girl, everything changes. For girls in Cambodia, finishing secondary school leads to smaller, healthier families, lower HIV infection rates, and higher wages. And as an added bonus, educated women are more likely to educate their own children – ending the cycle of illiteracy in one generation.

By December 2014, the Atlassian Foundation aims to raise $75,000 for girls’ education in Cambodia, which will support 50 girls to complete secondary school (grades 7-12). Invest in our girls’ education program and help Cambodian girls get the material support, tutoring, mentorship, and life skills training they need to stay in school and thrive. You can help us reach this goal!

Donate now

About Atlassian and Room to Read

Atlassian has been a proud supporter of Room to Read’s projects in Asia since 2009, donating almost $2 million through sales of our $10 starter licenses and impacting the lives of over 80,000 children. In 2011 we decided to focus our efforts on Cambodia in order to have a greater impact in one region, and today we’re Room to Read’s largest corporate donor in that country.

Room to Read’s vision is a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential, and contribute back to their community and the world. The Atlassian Foundation’s vision is to give youth of the world access to a world-class education to break the poverty cycle. To achieve these shared visions, Atlassian and Room to Read focus on two areas to have the greatest impact: literacy and gender equality in education.


1 List of countries by percentage of population living in poverty

Wikipedia Article on Women in Cambodia

Human Development Report 2013: Gender Inequality Index

Girl Rising: Girls Education Facts

Atlassian Foundation in Cambodia: Current challeng...