Politician Mu Sochua is working to change the presence of women in her country’s governmental affairs.
Mu was born in Cambodia, but she was sent to study in the West when she was 12 years old. She graduated from UC Berkley in the 70s with a master’s degree in social work, and set about the task of trying to improve the lives of those around the world. This desire led her to the border of Thailand, where she spent her time working with Cambodian refugees. It was there, in 1984, that she met her husband, an American who was also working with refugees, and eventually went on to work with the UN.
I went to the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and heard Hillary Clinton say very clearly: ‘If you want to make genuine change for women, go into politics’
In 1989, Mu and her husband returned to her home country, and a little less than a decade later, Mu was elected to the Cambodian National Assembly, where she served as a Member of Parliament. Within the year, she was also appointed to the cabinet, where she served as the Minister of Women’s and Veterans Affairs.
No freedom comes without struggle.
Mu served in that capacity for six years, and during that time, she made tremendous strides for women’s rights. She fought for an end to worker exploitation. She worked with Thailand to curb sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. She spoke out against child abuse and spousal rape, and she helped draft major legislation on violence against women. Her work was so essential, and so influential, that in 2005, she was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize.
My approach to peace has always been through building voices and forces with various groups, either at local, national, regional or international level. I strongly believe in a life free from fear and violence.
Mu was also a key figure in the rise of women in Cambodian politics. When Cambodia began holding commune elections in 2002, Mu traveled the country encouraging women to run for office. In part because of her tireless efforts, 25,000 women decided to run and nearly 10% of them won their elections.
Mu was exceptional at her job, but as one might expect, her staunch support of equal rights didn’t exactly make her popular in Cambodian government, nor did her desire to put an end to governmental corruption. As such, she left the government in 2004 and began working with the opposition party. She returned to parliament soon after, but this time, she did so under the auspices of her new party. In 2009, she also began serving as the head of their Women’s Wing. In this capacity, she once again focused on empowering women and galvanizing voters and future politicians. She traveled to hundreds of villages, many of which were often overlooked during campaigns. She braved malaria and landmines in an effort to encourage people to use their vote to improve the lives of her people.
Knowing that justice will prevail drives me.
Politics in Cambodia remain turbulent, but Mu remains steadfast in her commitment. She is still serving as a member of parliament and fighting for women’s rights. Even being thrown in prison has not been enough to slow her down. She is still fighting against corruption and fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised. She is empowering women and girls in her country, often even personally paying for them to get an education. Things are not perfect for the people of Cambodia, but they are much, much better because they have Mu Sochua fighting for them.