Interview by AING Sokroeun & CHIM Linna
For more than 25 years, Mu Sochua has tirelessly advocated for women’s issues in Cambodia. She has fought to stop human trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, worker exploitation, corruption and government oppression. During her time as minister of women’s and veteran’s affairs, the country’s first law on the prevention of domestic violence was drafted. For her achievements she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize among 1,000 women for advocating non-violence in response to conflicts. Today, Mu Sochua is considered the most prominent woman in Cambodia's political opposition. In the interview, she talks about the long way ahead for Cambodian women in their quest for gender equality and political empowerment.
What does the International Women’s Rights Day mean to Cambodians, especially to women?
Women International’s Rights Day is a day for women in the world, and we, Cambodian women are a part of the world. Therefore, in any gain, any loss, any violation and any rape those women in the world receive. Cambodian women are part of the entire scene. Therefore, we as Cambodian women and we as women of the world want to commemorate the 100 year anniversary.
What does the International Women’s Rights Day mean to you?
I am elected by people who voted me. More than 52 percent are women, I am responsible and accountable to women in general. On this women’s day, I sit down and think of the time 100 years ago. Then women were facing lack of education, hard work and violation as well as joy and happiness in the family. Today, a hundred years later, after a long fight, I feel that the situation has changed little in Cambodia. Maybe it has improved in some areas. But for example gender based violence, is still a reality for Cambodian women. Therefore, I stand very strongly with the Cambodian women on this day to say “no” to violence against women.
What are the challenges to raise women’s voice, women’s choice? In your opinion what are solutions?
Women’s voice is essential for democracy, essential for the protection of community resources – forest, the land. Women’s voices are essential for women’s solutions to the development of the country. Women’s choices are choices that are based on women’s lifes. For example, the freedom to live without fear, the freedom to live without violence. There are choices that women need to make on their own, society can’t make it for them.
What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice means, your daughter can go to school, and so can my daughter. Social justice means even the poor have a chance to benefit from the quality of education, health care, employment, land. Social justice means dignity to live as a real human being.
Dignity means that you can walk, you can function, you can live and work in your society, in your community with pride, without having to feel fear, and without being discriminated.
As minister of women affairs you campaigned against marital rape and domestic violence. You have helped to draft Cambodia’s law against domestic violence. Why was that of particular importance to you?
Any violation of human rights, means the victim loses the right to be human. Therefore, violence against women means to totally ignore the value of women. Women are the most essential of human resources for Cambodia. Violence against women is very severe because it destroys the present and the future. The law that I have drafted seeks justice in all aspects. Therefore, it is very essential for the liberation and dignity of women.
Did the law bring about change?
People are aware of the law. But Cambodian women are still lagging behind men in many ways. Despite enormous changes, Cambodian society is still not open enough for women to live in equality with men. Too little is done to express no tolerance for violence against women. Because victims of rape, victims of gender based violence are still pushed aside by society. A problem for the implementation of the law is the practice of compensation (perpetrators paying money to the victim and her family instead of being tried in court). And because the justice system is corrupt, the police, the judges, the prosecutors all accept compensation as a way of resolution. Poverty is still a huge problem. Often women are pressured not to file a complaint because if the perpetrator must go to prison, he can no longer support his family.
When you were minister of women’s affairs you lead the way for women into thousands of government positions. Has this advanced women’s issues in our male-dominated society?
Women in Cambodia lose fear today because they have better access to information, better access to education. Women today are aware of the word “gender” and even men join the women’s movement. We speak openly about reproductive health, the impact of violence against women. Cambodia has a very high success rate in the fight against HIV/AIDs. We have come a long way. In the parliament, women represent close to 25 percent. We have appointed/ elected women in local governments in every province. However, the number will not count until women who are in the position speak out and have a voice in the interest of women, for the benefit of the entire community. If we are silent and do not use our power to address issues for women, human rights, injustice, corruption, we do not serve women with accountability.
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