18 April 2012
Mu Sochua: Cambodia’s fearless heroine
Mu Sochua, a recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is one of the most prominent women in Cambodian politics. For over twenty years, she has been at the forefront of her country’s efforts for democratic reform, free elections, and human rights.
Hailed by The New York Times as a “a member of a new generation of women working their way into the political systems of countries across Asia,” Sochua is combating the tragedies of human trafficking by empowering women to seek political office and fighting for free elections to ensure the voices of Cambodian voters are heard. In 2002, Sochua helped to mobilize 12,000 women candidates to run in the commune elections. Over 900 were elected, ushering in a new generation of female leadership in Cambodia.
Called “Cambodia’s fearless heroine” by The Daily Beast and a “passionate fighter for girls and women” by O Magazine, Mu Sochua has been courageous in her opposition to an oppressive regime that limits democratic freedom and turns a blind eye to human rights abuses. In 2009, she went toe-to-toe with the Prime Minister in a public dispute that risked landing her in jail.
Born and raised in Phnom Penh, at age 18 Sochua was forced to flee to the United States when war and genocide took hold of her native land. Her parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge, along with over two million fellow Cambodians.
In the United States, Sochua excelled in her studies and received a master’s degree from the University of California Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. After 18 years of exile, she returned to Cambodia and found her country transformed into what Time magazine called “a pervert’s paradise” where women and girls were traded like currency. Accompanying sex workers on their nightly “shifts”, Sochua saw first-hand the dangers that befall these young girls (many below the age of 16) on a nightly basis.
She set out on a career defending the rights of women, laborers and farmers. She has since walked through hundreds of villages, encouraging women to take more active leadership roles in local democracy, and has prompted her government to allow democratic expression in the form of free and fair elections.
In 1993, Sochua succeeded in incorporating strong provisions into the Cambodian Constitution, improving human and women’s rights across the nation. With support from the United Nations Fund for Women, Sochua helped to organize Cambodian women’s participation in the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference for Women. She arranged for over a thousand women to travel to Beijing for the conference, many of them from indigenous populations.
In 1998, Sochua won a parliamentary seat in a northwestern province of Cambodia, one of the nation’s most devastated regions. In the same year, Sochua became Minister of Women and Veterans’ Affairs, one of only two women to join the cabinet. As a Cabinet member, Sochua authored the Domestic Violence Law, and negotiated an agreement with Thailand to curtail human trafficking in Southeast Asia and allow Cambodian women trafficked as sex slaves to return home instead of being jailed as criminals. Sochua also launched a campaign to engage NGOs, law enforcement officials, and rural women in a national dialogue on women’s development.
Ultimately dissatisfied with the ruling Government’s corruption and poor governance, Sochua joined the Sam Rainsy opposition party to fight corruption and focus on democracy and human rights. In 2006, Sochua was elected Secretary General of the Sam Rainsy Party and became the first female Secretary General of a political Party in Cambodia. She is currently the president of the Party’s Women’s Wing and has received the party’s approval to put at least 450 women on winning positions for the 2012 local elections.
Along with her nomination by the Nobel Committee, Sochua is also the recipient of the Vital Voices’ Human Rights Global Leadership Award, presented by then-Senator Hillary Clinton.