Mu Sochua – Cambodia

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Mu Sochua, 50, began this work while serving as Cambodia’s minister of women’s and veterans’ affairs. Last summer she left her post to join her country’s opposition party; she continues to learn the harsh truth by walking with those who walk the streets. “I am very frightened on these nights. But I want to feel the violence, the abuse, the reality of these women,” she says quietly, with controlled passion … // … More than two decades ago, Sochua finished graduate school in the United States. She could have stayed to enjoy a relatively comfortable career in social work. Instead she returned to her homeland to become a passionate fighter for girls and women. Her drive to transform a society shattered by war into one that’s fair and equal has led her to tackle one of the worst human rights problems of our time.Sex Trafficking is a global outrage that victimizes millions: Nepalese women are sold into India; sub-Saharan Africans into Belgium; Nigerians into Italy, Germany, and France; Filipinas throughout much of the world, including North America; and those from the former Soviet bloc all throughout Europe. (the wave project).

… Since her return to Cambodia after 18 years in exile, Mu Sochua has been an assertive participant in the rebirth of her homeland, which was torn apart in the 1970s and 1980s by genocide and foreign occupation … (full text).

Mu Sochua (born 1954) is deputy head of the steering committee of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in Cambodia. A former minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, Mu spearheaded the drafting of the law on domestic violence and trafficking. A catalyst for policy reform and institution building for the advancement of women and children’s rights, she advises international organizations promoting women’s rights. She authored the Prevention of Domestic Violence law (pending parliament approval) and advocates for a quota system to ensure the participation of women in politics. Mu Sochua has no private office and has to share her computers with her colleagues. But the former government minister on women’s affairs pays little attention to luxury, even if she was born into it  … She says: “What I will not compromise on are poverty and violence against women”. (1000peacewomen).

… In July 2004 she stepped down from her role as a Minister, citing corruption as a major obstacle to her work … (full text).

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Mu Sochua – Cambodia

Since January 15, 2007 she works as Secretary General for the Sam Rainsy Party (its website, on wikipedia, Sam Rainsy USA, Sam Rainsy UK, and named on Liberal International, Cambodia).

Watch these videos:

  • Stolen Innocence – Cambodia, 25.25 min;
  • Seven – A Documentary Play, 07.30, Mar 19, 2008, and this text: Mu Sochua, our Board member from Cambodia and an inspiring political leader in her country, was one of seven remarkable women from around the world whose life and contribution was honored in a documentary play called Seven … (full text, February 12, 2008).

Her statement on Cambodian Rehabilitation and Development Board CRDB: Gender disparities exists in all sectors of development. Gender gaps are widespread in access to and control Of resources, in economic opportunities, in power and political voice. Women, girls and the female youth bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities. Addressing equity issues relating to women’s and children’s rights is crucial to good governance and to sustainable social and economic development, to social justice and to alleviating poverty. Indeed, improving the situation of women and children is central to the Royal Cambodian Government’s strategy to alleviate poverty. Neary Rattenack: Women are Precious Gems is our five-year strategy and action plan to achieve our vision … (full text, not dated).

“With no law to define specifically the penalty for acid attacks, several officials said more or less the same, ‘There will be a trial of this case of an acid attack, based the the obvious damage which has been inflicted on the victim’s appearance.’ “However, the deputy secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Ms. Mu Sochua said, ‘Acid attacks, which often target women, should be considered a crime which is heavier than just bodily injury’ … (full text).

She says also: “Their bodies are cheap currency in Cambodia, where girls—many of them under 16—turn tricks for pennies, often with dozens of men a night. Why is this still going on? Blame poverty, blame corruption, blame a society that views women as a disposable resource. Carol Mithers talks to an amazing crusader named Mu Sochua about her fight to stop the tragedy”. (the wave project).

Find her and her publications on IMDb; on Google Images-results; on Google News-results; on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

And she says (in her statement): “The Secretary General is to make the SRP machinery work and that task can never be achieved if one works alone or with just a few groups of selected people. I believe in team work, I believe in reaching out, I believe in the power of ideas and actions. But with a real focus … ” (full text).

On 1000peacewomen 2/2: … Coming from an affluent family in Cambodia, Mu Sochua (born 1954) grew up in an environment where she got a lot of love and attention from relatives. “My father was not with my mother when I was born. He registered my birth in another province two weeks later. I learned about loneliness, thinking that my mom had to be lonely when she was pregnant and delivered a baby while my father was away.”

Her fatherless childhood left an important mark on Sochua’s direction in life. She learned about gender inequality and grew up determined to fight it. As a child, Sochua says she was an “introvert” who always hid behind her more out-going sister. This somehow provided her a shield from having to marry early, a Chinese tradition that was forced on her sister, who successfully resisted.

Her grandfather came from China. Her father – who became a respected member of the community, was sent to China to get an education. Sochua went to French school in Cambodia, and later attended San Francisco State University as a refugee. She obtained her master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sochua speaks three languages: Cambodian, French and English. Even though a sense of justice was not alien to the young Sochua, she never planned on being a politician. Her ancestors lived in special area occupied by Vietnam and where Vietnamese influence was imposed on people who nevertheless identified with Cambodia.

When the Vietnam War spilled into Cambodia in 1972, Sochua and her sister were sent to Paris. They never saw their parents again. Sochua learned later that when the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh and brutally ruled the country from 1975 to 1979, father died of starvation while the fate of her mother remains unknown.

While in America as a refugee, Sochua’s leadership qualities came to the fore when she was called in to work as a translator, and then became president of the Cambodian Community in San Francisco. In spite of the sense of freedom she experienced living in America, Sochua always wanted to go back home. “I never stopped thinking about going home. I always dreamed about going home,” she recalls.

Home was where she headed in 1981 when she left the US to work in refugee camps along the Thai border where she met her husband who worked for the World Food Program. But because of her work and her husband’s work, Sochua did not have a chance to return to Phnom Penh until 1989. When she found that the house where she grew up was gone, she had to let go of the past.

In 1991, she found Khemara, the first non-governmental organization to advocate for women’s participation in nation building. Khemara worked on credit programs and shelters for victims of domestic violence. It also cooperated with local Buddhist monks and nuns in organizing demonstrations for peace.

In 1998, Sochua ran for the national assembly and won. Her leadership later earned her a position in the Cabinet as minister of Women’s and Veteran’s Affairs, a post normally held by a man. It was not easy getting there.

“As a woman politician, you are likely to be ridiculed. Whenever you do wrong, people will say it is because you are a woman. To be at that level (being a Cabinet minister), you have to be very efficient,” she says. Brains, responsibility and appearance are the three most important things she has to take into consideration as a woman politician.”

She was determined to see a change in the area of women’s rights. As a Cabinet minister, Sochua visited the red light districts of Cambodia and learned first hand about the life of sex workers, most of whom are underage and were possibly being trafficked or tricked into sex work.

Sochua also traveled to several rural areas discussing with villagers about gender equality and women’s dignity.

There is an old saying in Cambodia that says, “A man is a gold; a woman is a white piece of cloth.”
“Think of it. If you drop a piece of gold in the mud, you can clean it, and it will be shinier than before. But if a piece of white cloth is stained, it is ruined,” Sochua once told the United States-based Ophrah Magazine. “If you’ve lost your virginity, if you’re a battered woman, you cannot be a white piece of cloth,” Sochua told the publication.

The campaign she later used to promote gender equality was, “Men are gold. Women are precious gems.”

It is central to Sochua’s work to advance the rights of women. For her country to become truly democratic, gender-based violence must end, she says. Major among her activities is the drafting of the country’s first law on domestic violence, which is currently under consideration by the National Assembly. In May 2004, Sochua helped negotiate a deal with Thailand, which allows Cambodian women and girls being trafficked to be repatriated rather than be treated as illegal immigrants. A similar deal has been arranged with Vietnam.

To Sochua, the strategy for fighting trafficking in women and girls needed rethinking. She therefore started a program to give women living along the Thai-Cambodian border the financial ability to resist traffickers. Under the program, women can borrow about US$100 dollars to buy a cart that they can use to sell locally made products to tourists.

Sochua could have stayed with the government party and maintain a high position in the government. However, in 2003, she resigned from the Funcinpec party to join the opposition Sam Rainsy party whose leader is now living in exile after his immunity was revoked by parliament in 2005. She insists that she did not desert her party. Rather, it was her party that deserted her. Sochua says that she left because she did not want to compromise her principles: to work to reduce poverty and end gender-based violence. However, joining the opposition party came at a price. Sochua’s telephone had been tapped and, since opposition party members are at risk of being assaulted, she now has top move about with a bodyguard.

In her elegant traditional Cambodian silk dress, the slender Sochua shines. Her gestures are well mannered. She speaks fast, which is her nature, she says. She is also a good listener, a skill she learned from her background in social work and psychology. “I cannot be ignorant. If I am to live with my Cambodian people, I have to live up to their expectations. My life and work are here,” says Sochua. “I won’t compromise on poverty and violence against women,” the 50-year-old mother of three daughters announces. Indeed, this is the principle she has dedicated her life to. (1000peacewomen).

links:

The WAVE project: women agains violence everywhere;

Documentary Play: Seven, Performed in New York City, and its Trafficking Alert on International Edition, May 2005;

Cambodian Information Center;

IB Times, Japan.

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