Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mu Sochua - giving women a voice

Human rights advocate Mu Sochua was born fifty years ago to an affluent Phnom Penh family but was sent to Paris by her parents in the early 70s as Cambodia became a battleground. She never saw her parents again as they were lost to the abyss created by the Khmer Rouge. However, she returned to the country of her birth in 1989 and has since spoken out on human trafficking, women's rights and worker exploitation and shows no sign of slowing down. During her 18 years in exile, Mu Sochua spent time in Paris, California and Italy as well as working in the refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. On her return, she formed the first organization for women called Khemara and joined the FUNCINPEC political party, winning a national assembly seat representing Battambang in 1998, and soon afterwards was asked to take over the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, one of only two women in the cabinet. Her tenure as Minister was marked by campaigns and programs that made a difference to the lives of women in Cambodia as well as highlighting the human rights deficencies she found all around her.

In July 2004 she stepped down from her role as a Minister, citing corruption as a major obstacle to her work. Almost immediately she transferred her allegiance to the Sam Rainsy party, where she is deputy head of the steering committee. Through her work in human rights, domestic violence, HIV awareness and the trafficking of women and children, she holds a unique position in her country and abroad, where her voice is listened to and respected. She recently joined forces with the K11 project to appear on the feature length documentary Virgin Harvest, the shocking exposure of child trafficking in her country.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Dr Mu Sochua: 2006 Recipient of the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award

University of California, Berkeley

For more than 25 years, Mu Sochua has served as a role model for Cambodians and world citizens, playing a vital role in the empowerment of women and courageously leading the fight against gender-based violence. She provides valuable lessons to men and women on the importance of good governance, social change, equity, and respect for human rights.

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. Though her parents perished during this period of national turmoil, Mu Sochua escaped, relocating first to Paris and then to the Bay Area, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and an M.S.W. from UC Berkeley. Returning to her homeland, she served as an advisor on women's affairs to the prime minister, was elected to the National Assembly, and was minister of women's and veterans affairs from 1998 to 2004.

As minister, Mu Sochua led a nationwide campaign to reduce violence against Cambodian women in the workplace and to end human trafficking there. She drafted a law to protect women from domestic violence and helped nongovernmental organizations rescue trafficked women and children from brothels. Her voice of leadership even challenged fellow members of government — when a corruption scandal involving her own party's leader broke out during the formation of the new coalition government in 2004, she gave up her cabinet post and, in protest, joined the opposition party. There she became the first and only woman in Cambodia to hold the position of secretary-general of a political party.

Mu Sochua was one of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and has received many awards for her human rights work. She holds an honorary Ph.D. in law from Guelph University in Canada.