Cambodia: investing in women's entrepreneurship

In Cambodia, Aide et Action supports women's entrepreneurship by providing them with training and materials. This allows marginalized women to test new business ideas, increase their income and build a more equitable society. 

In the rural north-western province of Kampong Thom, 51-year-old farm worker Sin Koeun became the sole breadwinner for her family of three dependents after her husband died unexpectedly in 2020.

Before his death, Koeun and her husband worked together on a cashew and cassava farm, earning about US$12 a day, which at best enabled them to keep their daughter and grandson in school. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Cambodia in March 2020, Koeun was faced not only with the sudden loss of her husband, but also with a significant loss of income and a deterioration in her own health.

"It was a very difficult time for me," says Koeun. "My income was not enough to balance our daily expenses, especially since I had also fallen ill."

In order to support the family, her son has crossed the border into Thailand illegally in search of work. Although he can sometimes send money to support his mother, his work is precarious and his income fluctuates with the waves of Covid-19. Koeun's son dropped out of school in the second grade and, without an education, his job opportunities are limited. 

Building resilience 

Currently, Koeun's daughter is in junior high school and her grandson is in primary school; despite her meager income, she does not want to sacrifice their education. To help women like Koeun keep their children in school, Aide et Action, with funding from the European Union, has been promoting and building the capacity of women-led small businesses so that they can increase their income. To date, we have supported more than 180 communities in Koen province as well as in Kandal, Pursat and other provinces in Cambodia. 

As part of our project Holistic Educational Strategies for Pro-Poor Community DevelopmentSin Koeun was introduced to poultry farming. In June 2021, she received 10 chickens, along with necessary supplies such as chicken feed and a coop, and training with experts from the Ministry of Agriculture on how to raise chickens. She has since developed a small business that she hopes will provide a better income for her family. "I received 10 chickens in June, and now it has increased to 15 chickens. I am still working in the fields and I am still waiting a little while to raise more chicks. I am hopeful that I can sell them at a very good price," says Koeun.

Tackling inequalities

In Cambodia, women's work is often not as valued as men's in the labour market and, according to a UNDP studyIn addition, women working in the informal sector were more affected by unemployment (22 %) than men (13 %) during the pandemic. 

Understanding the obstacles that women face in accessing fair employment opportunities and supporting them has been one of Aide et Action's focus areas during the pandemic. The poultry business was a turning point for Koeun and her family. Now that her business is growing, Koeun hopes to be able to devote herself fully to the breeding and reduce the hours she spends working in the cashew and cassava fields. "I hope the poultry business will gradually grow. If all goes well, I will also start raising pigs. I will stop working in the fields because it is really exhausting at my age. I will devote all my time to chickens and pigs instead," she said. 

She also tries to keep her daughter and grandson in school so that they have options other than precarious farm work when they grow up. Although the children helped raise livestock during the school closures, she was eager to send them back to school. "When schools reopen, I will send my daughter and grandson back to school. I want my daughter to become a doctor.

As we celebrate International Women's Day on 8 March 2022, we continue to support female-headed households, such as Koeun's, to build better livelihoods and to help children, especially girls, who are at risk of dropping out of school.

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