Saren Keang: Fighting for women’s rights with every breath
Saren Keang, Cambodia
I am Saren, born and raised in Cambodia but have lived and worked in four other countries, Bangladesh, Thailand, USA and Canada. Understandably, I speak some Thai and Bengali in addition to English and my mother tongue, Khmer.
I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree in Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution at Brandeis University. I’m expected to graduate in December. I love reading, traveling and photography. I carry a book and my DSLR camera with me every time I travel.
Professionally, I am a field researcher and have worked for international organizations such as Family Health International (Fhi 360) and BBC Media Action.
As for my lifelong passion, I am an advocate for girls’ education and women’s empowerment. I grew up in a traditional patriarchal society where gender norms are so deeply entrenched and girls are often discouraged from getting a higher education. This is perhaps where the root of my passion lies. I developed this passion more rigorously at Asian University for Women (AUW), Chittagong, Bangladesh, where I had my undergraduate degree.
AUW is an all-girl university, where young women all over Asia, mostly from underprivileged background, come together to learn and build a vision for a better and more equitable world. We have students who are former refugees from the Middle East, Rohingya women, garment workers and many others from a disadvantaged or marginalized background, who would have otherwise not been able to afford a university education if it weren’t for AUW scholarship. We recruit these groups of women because we want to create a more equitable and inclusive society where young women of all backgrounds are welcome and given an opportunity to develop their full potential to be able to meaningfully contribute to their communities.
Because AUW’s mission is closely aligned to my passion at heart, I continue to work with AUW to recruit more young women to AUW and fundraise to support and sustain this worthwhile initiative. As a country ambassador from Cambodia, I help AUW recruit young talented girls from the rural area of Cambodia and so far, I have recruited 13 young promising women to join AUW, all of which are doing incredibly well. I also represent this whole group of promising young women in front of many potential donors advocating for our cause and convincing them to support what we’re doing. I have spoken publicly about this topic of girls’ education and empowerment in various avenues, including the Asia Society Texas Center in Houston and a roundtable event in New York, where I shared the stage with prestigious guest speakers like Cherie Blair, the former first lady of the U.K., and Akie Abe, the first lady of Japan, respectively.
I aspire to be a global advocate for girls’ education. When girls are educated, everyone benefits. It simply does not make sense that we limit opportunities for half of the world population. If we want to solve the major challenges the world is facing today, we need everyone’s contribution.
Professionally, I’d love to work at the “UN Women” and cooperate with other women’s organizations to bring about a gender-equal world.
I’m currently working on my master’s thesis and trying to get some of my previous work published altogether with managing many ideas to empower women. I’d love to get some of those ideas out and hear thoughts and feedback from fellow delegates at the Youth Assembly. I’d also love to hear their stories and learn about their initiatives. I’m sure I’d be immensely inspired by their passionate young minds.