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Women and democracy

9 October 2005

I am so excited about the victory of Afghan women in Parliament. Yes, it is a place for women and men.  In Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere where it is not safe for women to enter politics but women have defy all intimidation and threats wither political or cultural.

However, we do have to respect those women who are nt ready to change the way of life because their mothers say so, because their grandmothers told them so. We need to really listen to their reasons. Is it really their wish? is it just that the challenge is beyond them but with support, the challenges can be overcome?

When the UN came to Cambodia to help prepare the lections in 1993, after 20 years of conflict, the UN open the space for us to begin speaking about democracy and human rights. But we are very clear that whatever we have gained today is what ever we have fought for for the past 30 years. And that fight came with a high price as lives of women and men have been lost for the defense of freedom and change. Democracy is never a free meal.

Working with women does not mean we must exclude men and I agree with Lina. I think I went very srong on promoting women's space, when I was minister of women's affairs and it was my deputy who told me, taught me to include men. And then it became easier as men who abuse their wives had less to fight against. They give up their space more easily when we explain that it is not a weakness but a sign of strength, to allow their wives to have their own opinions. But it has to be clear that we can not cmpromise and give away our space in democracy because we need men to enter our space.

I will be on local radio next week and the topic is: women in decison-making. Cambodian culture is still very critical of foreign import of women's rights. Having been educated in the West, it takes me a great deal of thinking before i launch an idea or express my opinion. That is because the message we put out must be clear: democracy and human rights are not foreign concept. It is our culture that does not have space for equality. Then the challenge is very clear: do we let it be or do we squeeze out that space for those who are excluded and marginalized.   

to ask women to enter politics and sit on the same bench as men requires a great deal of energy, commitment and hard work. it is a job that never ends. I tis not enough to cher our women when they join our party or a political cause. The hardest part is to sustain the momentum once it has been built.

Strengtheing the networks or women through training, trhough good organization, through a good structure and most of all by supporting the women at the grassroots who make so much sacrifice to join a party or to run for elections is th eonly way to gain and maintain our political space and space for democracy. It is for these women that the fight must go on. At every meeting of our women's wing we hear cases of violence, of our activists being intimidated, beaten by their husbands but they continue to come to weekly or monthly meetings. 

i will end here today by saying: it is too easy to say that foreigners can not teach us democracy. At least we can listen and throw away what is not relevant. One thing is sure: we are all humans and we all deserve to sit on the same bench as men. But it is not a fight between men and women. It is a fight to make sure than laws are used to protect women and men equally, rich and poor fairly, majority and minority justly(is this a word?).

Too bad that the 1000 women could not celebrate a moment of joy together. But as my daughter Devi said: Mom, to be nominated is already a great recognition that other billions of women do not have.      

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