Investment in the advancement of women and girls is widely recognized as imperative to create sustainable development throughout the world. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals state that “providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” Studies by the World Bank and others show that improvements in women’s education lead to better educated children; improvements in women’s health leads to healthier children and communities; productivity is raised by employing the talents and skills of women, who invest in their communities, creating opportunities for others; and greater control of household resources by women enhances national growth by changing spending patterns.
In Southeast Asia, the Ministerial Meeting on Women of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has stated that “ASEAN leaders recognize and reaffirm the importance of women and their participation in development.”
But despite advances, throughout Southeast Asia women are less likely to be educated, less likely to receive the healthcare and nutrition they need, and less likely to wield influence in their homes and communities than their male counterparts. As a result, they have fewer economic and leadership opportunities and little voice in the social and political systems that shape their lives.
In Cambodia, for example, there are high dropout rates and limited vocational opportunities for young women. Almost three times the number of women (34%) have no formal schooling compared to men, and half the number of women (18%) compared to men have completed upper secondary school or higher. Just 16% percent of senior government positions are held by women, 20% of parliamentarians are female and 14% of the judiciary is female.
Harpswell believes that by supporting, inspiring and educating the brightest young women with leadership potential, these young women will go on to transform their communities through their work and example. It is our hope that this supportive network of young women leaders will eventually address some of the root causes of social inequality by transforming systems, attitudes and social norms. They will support each other and their communities in creating economic advancement, as well as positive social change.