One of CARE’s key focus areas is to increase women’s voice and participation to ensure they have their say in decisions affecting them, their families and their communities. Using Gap’s curriculum to empower women in garment factories – called Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE) – CARE is now adapting this to enhance the personal agency of women in rural communities.
The pilot for PACE in the Community provided short, regular training sessions to members of community savings groups called VSLAs. These covered life skills such as communication, decision making and problem solving, as well as Khmer literacy and basic budgeting.
A large proportion women say one of the most important impacts they have found from training is on their ability to negotiate with family members, particularly the men in their families, to allow them to make decisions for themselves.
For example, many women found that their husbands were resistant to them depositing money with the savings groups. “My husband asked me: what is the benefit of saving? This is a stupid idea,” says one participant. “Before I attended PACE training when I talked to my husband and he did not agree, I always kept silent without arguing with him. But now it is completely different; I apply my new decision making skills with him by responding with reasonable, soft explanations.”
Another says, “I learned how to use reasoning to make decisions and balance positive reasons against negative ones when coming to a conclusion. I used this to explain to my husband step by step all the positive reasons for saving each week... He eventually understood why I decided to join and concluded that this is a good thing for our family. He now agrees to give me money to save each week.”
Family members have also noticed this change: one husband says, “my wife is more reasonable and she is braver to talk than before she received training from PACE.”
The ability to voice their own opinions and stand firm in the face of opposition has not only increased women’s confidence, but also led to changes in the dynamics within their families. A number of women reported that the greatest difference they have noticed is in the behaviour of the men in their family.
One savings group leader says, “my brothers and father have changed by encouraging me to attend the training regularly. They now help share tasks like cooking that before they considered as women’s tasks which are not fit for men.” Spouses are actively showing support for their wives’ activities, even if this means taking on extra burdens which before they were content to leave for women. “After time he changed his attitude,” another woman says of her husband. “He now helps me when he returns from fishing. He has stopped criticising me when food is not prepared and he helps to take care of the children or cook when he sees I am busy with other work.”
Men are not shy about speaking of the support they now provide: “I now encourage her to attend the training on time and regularly cook, clean or look after children when she goes,” says one husband.
Women’s personal agency has not just increased within their homes—they are also becoming more active within their communities.
“Before training I had never spoken to the village chief or to people from the commune council. Now I am more daring in what I will say to my husband and I have confidence to speak to village leaders if I need anything.” This confidence many now possess is a key motivator for women to speak out; as a result of their participation in the PACE program they do not fear the consequences of having their own voice. As one woman says, “I am no longer afraid that that people will be angry with me when I ask for advice.”
Training sessions included tips for communicating in a calm reasoned manner; staff report that participants were able to demonstrate this when speaking with local authorities. As a result, commune councils have listened to what women from the community savings groups have to say and value their opinions. Women’s engagement in local affairs has also gained the support of local authorities in the area, who are actively encouraging women’s participation. “The commune councils advise “Women should dare to express your ideas and be involved in all social activities to advance your position in the community”’, says one participant.
From empowering women to have a more equal say in household decisions to equipping them with skills to actively engage with local leaders, the benefits of the PACE training are being felt by women across Sre Ambel District.
This is having a positive effect on women’s position in society and many are recognising their potential as future leaders. While attending the PACE graduation ceremony Mr. Mas Socheat, Sre Ambel Vice District Governor, said, “men consider that women are weak and cannot become leaders but through our support from all sides, the results show that women are changing their position in society from simple citizens to be leaders. Women are leading savings groups and leading their families to increase their income.”