Introducing Sreytouch Vong: Exploring the career pathway of the health workforce in Cambodia using a gender lens

Sreytouch is a recipient of a RinGs’ small research grant. Within this blog she discusses how she become interested in gender and human resources for health, and what led her to develop this project.

Sreytouch Vong
01 April 2015

Photo of Sreytouch VongSreytouch Vong is a recipient of a RinGs’ small research grant and currently works for the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, in the Social Development Programme, which focuses on health, gender, and education, in addition to being a part of the ReBUILD Consortium. Her project is titled: “The career pathway for health workers in Cambodia: the role of gender”. Within this blog post Sreytouch describes how she became interested in gender, her current work with ReBUILD, and what led her to research this topic in particular.

I graduated with a master’s degree in public health, awarded through the Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS), where I explored gender in relation to family planning knowledge, attitudes and practice among women; gender has always been an interest of mine.

Beyond academic interests, I have witnessed how gender roles and norms affect health through my community based work experience. I started my first career as a community health educator with a local youth association, where I worked closely with the community providing training of sexual reproductive health to young people in the community and in high schools. Through this work I witnessed that women were more constrained in accessing reproductive health information and participating in awareness raising activities, not only due to the sensitiveness of reproductive health issues and social perceptions that consider it taboo for women to know about these topics, but also due to limited opportunities for women to participate in community activities. From this experience, I realized that women’s and men’s experiences are quite different, not only in relation to their ability to access wider opportunities, such as engaging in formal and informal economic activities, but also in their ability to access information for individual health matters. Gender, for example, constrains women’s participation in reproductive health training within the community and their ability to obtain health information.

Through ReBUILD I am working on two projects related to contracting health services and human resources for health. These projects have provided me with the opportunity to witness gender issues at the institutional level. I recently conducted fieldwork with health managers and providers at the facility level. This experience showed that female health workers play an active role in providing primary health care services, particularly services related to maternal and child health. However, social perceptions about gender roles put them at a disadvantage. These two projects identified that gender roles influence the everyday life of health workers, their opportunities for capacity improvement, and their career progression to higher level clinical roles and management positions. For example, in the performance based contracting model, staff are required to stay in the facility to provide 24 hour service. Some female respondents reported bringing their children with them to work so that they could continue their child rearing role as well as meet the requirements of their contract and therefore receive financial incentives. Female health workers also reported having to leave work early in order to fulfill their domestic duties. These ReBUILD projects show that gender is a major factor that is neglected in health workforce policy and implementation of strategies, affecting women’s overall career progression. However, these projects did not analyse the coping strategies that female and male health workers employ during their careers, or the career pathways of female and male health workers in terms of clinical and management roles.

With my colleague Bandeth Ros, I have just started a new project exploring the career pathways of the health workforce using a gender lens. This new project provides me with an opportunity to explore in greater depth the gender issues that I witnessed within the ReBUILD projects. A life history approach will be used to explore the career pathway development of the health workforce at the sub-national level in Cambodia. We will explore factors influencing decisions of women and men to enter, stay and progress in the public health workforce; seek to understand the career path development of female and male health workers; and identify barriers and enabling factors for the career advancement of female and male health workers. We hope that this project will contribute to human resource policies and management which actively take gender into consideration in their development and implementation.

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