Chea Vannath is encouraging women to participate in tackling political and social issues.
Ms Vannath, who was also director of the Centre for Social Development for about a decade, yesterday during a Cross Talk discussion with Khmer Times said she wanted to remedy the sorrow inflicted by Pol Pot’s regime.
“This is the reason why I changed myself and my mind in order to struggle to help other people, regardless of how poor I am,” she said.
After the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, Ms Vannath was forced to work in labour camps before escaping to Thailand and ended up in the United States.
After living as a refugee for about a decade, she returned to Cambodia in 1992 to help rebuild her country.
“Honestly, as a Khmer lady, I was really shy and I did not like to stand in front of people to speak or express my point of view, but the suffering of the Khmer people pushed me to be brave,” Ms Vannath said. “It forced me to be a brave woman after the regime. I am happy to serve my society.”
She said that she was happy to work for the CSD, but decided to retire in 2006.
“I am happy with the work I did at the time. We helped to improve the value of human beings, the dignity of people and we helped vulnerable people – poor people, women and children who were vulnerable in society,” Ms Vannath said.
She said that public forums are important to help people be brave so that opinions can be expressed.
“The first time I held a public forum, no woman dared to speak in front of others, but they wanted to,” Ms Vannath said, adding that she often had to tell her staffers at the time to encourage women to speak up. “I tried to encourage them to bravely speak of what they want. I wanted to improve the rights of women. If there were ten participants, five of them had to be women. This was my principle at the time and it still is.”
The sentiment is shared by other influential women as well.
Chhay Sat, deputy chief of Doun Keo commune in Siem Reap province, yesterday said more women need to take part in decision making processes.
“In my commune, there are nine officials, but seven of them are men,” Ms Sat said. “We lack female officials and this is the challenge that we are faced with.”
She said that discrimination against women still occurs, regardless of a decline. Ms Sat noted that women are as capable as men.
“I want to encourage women to work for society as much as men do,” she said.