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20 October 2005

I apologize for not communicating with al of you for a while, although I read what is posted everyday.

I have been very involved in the recent political development in Cambodia as the prime minister is filing law suits against trade union activists, teacher leader, a radio owner, and the social secretary of th eformer King, for criticizing him. Sound familiar? Many of my friends are in hiding inside or outside the country and the one in jail is a very close friend. 

The UN invested close to 2 billion dolars in Cambodia for the preparation and holding of the first election after the war. And this is what we get?  Comes to show that women were surely not siting at the peace negotiation, after the Peace Accords was signed.

Many picutres on CNN, of women who have voted in Iraq, in Afghanistan. The message to th eworld is: see what democracy is all about. Women are part of it. Election alone is surely enough. Yes, women in some countries may get to vote for the first time but then they get send back to where their voices and decisons do not count.  

 I would like to share with you my pesonal experience in Cambodia and what women like myself have done and still facing such an uphill batttle to take part in rconstruction, in democreacy. 

War and genocide took me away from my native Cambodia when I just completed high school, in 1972. War in Cambodia exploded farther to genocide, from 1975 to 1979. In just three years, over one million lives were destroyed. The green rice fields of Cambodia became killing fields. 

Today, after fifteen years of peace and stability, Cambodia road to democracy remains shaky if not almost a dangerous road towards social and economic injustice. More than 40% of Cambodians live below poverty line. Cambodia remains underdeveloped with 10% of the people living in the capital city of Phnom Penh, another 10% in provincial towns and the remaining of the population in rural areas. Farmers are losing their land because of debts as their crops are lost year after year. Natural resources are depleted because of poor development policy but most of all because of deforestation, illegal logging and government concessions to private companies close to powerful officials.

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 value women as human beings and as equal partners. As a woman leader I lead with the strong believe that women bring stability and peace, at home, in their communities and for the nation. I fill most satisfied when the women's networks move together, create a critical mass and gain political space.

Women in Cambodia suffer a great deal from violence but women leaders in Cambodia made a big difference when they got elected as commune leaders, in 2002. As minister, I was able to make it happen as I work together with other women leaders in the NGO community to train over 5,000 women to take part as candidates and to finally win their seats. 983 women became chiefs of communes, deputy chiefs and members of the 1, 621 commune councils.

Women as commune leaders see development as an entire cycle that begins with basic education and health. Development is complete when the community as a whole can provide for each other and protect its resources. In Cambodia where the power of the village chief rules, the strength of the farmers can only be sustained when we assist them by providing information, with advocacy skills and with legal protection. This is why leadership development is important and the role of NGOs can make a difference.

I believe in the people's movements that are being formed everywhere, in all sectors. These movements face much struggle because of threats and intimidation but I believe that these movements will soon change as the rural and urban poor are better united and are gaining support from a strong democracy movement.

When one is considered a leader, one should never take this role as a privilege. This position can only obtained if one accept to learn, to make mistakes and to open space for others. A leader must always transfer his/her skills and knowledge. A leader must take time to look back and reevaluate the situation. Are we always on track?

I work along many young leaders. They are factory workers, union leaders, students, sex workers, people living with AIDS. My strengths come from learning from their strengths.

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