I left Cambodia as a young adolescent and returned as a mother and an activist, working with women's networks and human rights organizations to promote peace and to include strong provisions in the 1993 Constitution to protect the human rights of women.
In 1998, I ran for a parliamentary seat in the North West of Cambodia, the most devastated region, and won. The same year, I became Minister of Women and Veterans' Affairs – as one of only 2 women to join the cabinet. I declined a ministerial post in the next government, joining the opposition party instead, and joining forces with Cambodian democrats to fight corruption and government oppressions.
As a minister, I proposed the draft law on domestic violence in Parliament, negotiated an international agreement with Thailand to curtail human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and launched a campaign to engage NGOs, law enforcement officials, and rural women in a national dialogue.
During my mandate, I campaigned widely with civil society and NGOs to encourage women at the grassroots to run as candidates for commune elections, the first of their kind in the history of Cambodia. 25,000 women became candidates and over 9% were elected in 2002. I am a strong supporter and advocate for a gender quota, although this special measure is yet to be adopted by the government. As Cambodia is preparing for the next commune elections in 2007 and parliamentary elections in 2008, the voice of women remain strong in ensuring that at least 30% women will gain seats at all levels.
Having joined the opposition party, my focus has been strongly on democracy and human rights. I currently advise a wide network of civil society groups and trade unions on strategies to widen space for democracy.
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. My efforts have always been for long-term development which includes development of human resources for Cambodia, where most of our teachers, doctors, judges were killed during the Khmer Rouge years.
More than once I have come face to face with armed police and military. My strategy for self-protection is to remain vocal, visible and high profile.
I strongly believe in people’s participation and in giving women a fair share of development. This can only happen when the government demonstrates a strong political will to develop and implement policies that create special measures and opportunities for women to gain a fair share of development. Discrimination and violence against women can be addressed when society as a whole values women as human beings and as equal partners. As a woman leader I lead with the strong belief that women bring stability and peace, at home, in their communities and for the nation. I feel most satisfied when the women’s networks move together, create a critical mass and gain political space.
I would like to discuss the following issues:
• strategies to build peace at local level;
• social justice;
• including women in peace negotiations;
• land rights for women.