This past weekend, I was privileged to speak to a remarkable group of young women at the opening ceremony of a two-week leadership institute sponsored by the Women in Public Service Project, the Harpswell Foundation, and Pannasastra University. A total of 63 young women are participating in the institute, where they will hear from experts and participate in workshops on critical thinking, leadership, ethics, and public service. These young women represent a new generation of Cambodian women who are ready to make a positive impact on society and to take on leadership roles in their communities.
In my remarks, I shared my thoughts about the importance of having more women in leadership positions in Cambodia and the three things that women and girls need to achieve their full potential: Opportunity, Equality, and Access. Without opportunity, equality, and access, women and girls will always be at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. Why? These three pillars are what I see as the necessary tools to build a capable and confident generation of women leaders in business, science, education, and policymaking, in effect a more productive and responsible society. The leadership institute is one small but important step towards achieving these objectives, and I am encouraged by the possibilities and creativity the institute fosters.
This gives me an opportunity to describe the vision behind the Women in Public Service Project, which was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. With support from the U.S. Department of State, the Women in Public Service Project develops partnerships around the world to advance the pillars I mentioned above, opportunity, equality, and access.
The Harpswell Foundation and Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) are the hosts of this month’s leadership institute in Cambodia. The Harpswell Foundation was founded by U.S. academic and humanitarian Alan Lightman and operates two facilities in Phnom Penh that provide housing and support for outstanding Cambodian women while they attend university. PUC is one of Cambodia’s premier private universities and a frequent U.S. Embassy partner. The south campus in Phnom Penh also hosts an Embassy-sponsored American Corner and an Educational Advising Center, which provides free counseling about opportunities to study in the United States.
Joining me at the launch was the director of the Women in Public Service Project, Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis. Dr. de Silva de Alwis made an impassioned appeal to Cambodia’s young women, encouraging them to promote themselves and to fight for greater opportunity.
Another speaker at the inauguration was H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs. I want to personally thank Minister Phavi for sharing her valuable perspective on the steps that the Cambodian government is taking to encourage women to take on positions of leadership in government and society. Dr. Phavi herself is an excellent example of the positive impact that women can have in government and public policy in Cambodia.
In recent blog entries (such as this one and this one), I discussed the importance of creating opportunities for women to succeed in government, business, and other fields and described some of the many ways that the U.S. Embassy supports women’s development and equality in Cambodia. It is truly gratifying to be able to lend my support to partners like the Women in Public Service Project, the Harpswell Foundation, and Pannasastra University who share our interest in helping Cambodian women to become leaders. I wish the participants in the leadership institute the best of luck and look forward to following their progress in the future.