Women With Clout: Dr. Mu Sochua

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Dr. Mu Sochua is a well-known social activist and elected member of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). She doesn’t pull any political punches and has no hesitation about expressing her views and opinions. And she encourages other people to do the same.
But what is she like as a person? What is her human side? Adjectives that spring to mind are gracious, worldly, sophisticated and educated.  She is also very generous and makes time for people. And for someone with her demanding schedule, that is exceptional. “I have teams of people that organize the details of my life: cooking, driving, arranging meetings,” she said. On the rare occasions when she has some free time she likes to swim, cook for her children and work in the garden. “I love to read and always have three books on the go at any one time,” said Dr. Sochua.
Born in Phnom Penh in 1954 she went to pursue her education in France in 1972, just after she finished high school. “I came from a very protected family. All of a sudden I was in France and I felt like I had gotten lost. It was a year that was really more like a vacation than studying,” she said. During her 18 years overseas, Dr. Sochua lived in France, California and Italy. This factor contributed to her becoming worldly and trilingual, speaking Khmer, French and English.
As for being sophisticated and moving in certain circles, her friends include Hilary Clinton and Soma Norodom. So no matter if she is at Freedom Park or a gathering at the White House she is appropriately dressed for the occasion.
When it comes to education she can hold her own with academics. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in social work and an honorary Ph.D in law from the University of Guelph in Canada – and they don’t give those out easily. So she can legitimately be addressed as Dr. Sochua.
Her list of accomplishments goes on and on. First of all, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking. Also included in her lineup of accomplishments are the Elise and Walter A Hass award for a distinguished record of service, the Eleanor Roosevelt award for leadership and the Global Exchange people’s choice honoree for human rights.
She was in exile from 1975 to 1981. Her parents were trapped in the country in 1975 and they vanished under the Khmer Rouge. She and her brother were recruited to help with the first wave of Cambodians who arrived in the United States. “I was in my early 20s and had a lot of responsibility. The families, the children, the stress. I ended up feeling like I was almost their mother. It was a very emotional experience and it taught me a lot. It also made me realize that it is not the theory, but the practice that counts,” she said. She also worked for six years for the United Nations Border Relief Operations on the Cambodian-Thai border.
Dr. Sochua said, “I got into politics almost by accident. I returned to Cambodia in November of 1988. The United Nations was coming in 1991 so there were so many issues we had to prepare for and discuss: the constitution, the election and how to achieve peace. I was a civil society leader at the time. Between 1991 and 1995 I didn’t even realize I was into politics. The amusing part of the story is that the advice my father gave me was “don’t get into politics and don’t marry a foreigner” when I was a teenager.”
Voice of the People
Dr. Sochua is regarded as the “voice of the people.” “For me it is all about justice. Land is being taken away, people are raped, the poor have so little hope. I think being exposed to the American sense of social justice made a lasting impression on me. Respect is so important. Gender justice is another major problem in Cambodia. I am proud to be a Cambodian woman and to stand up to the men. We need more women in politics and I believe in being a rebel,” she said.
On the topic of women in politics, Dr. Sochua is going to start a “Sister to Sister” project. “I plan to spend the rest of my political life mentoring. It is so important that we support each other and that we grow and develop. I learn all the time by listening, watching and asking questions. If I am afraid to ask a question I feel like I am cheating the people I am supposed to serve. If people criticize me, I don’t care,” she said.
In summary, Dr. Sochua is a dynamic, articulate leader with clout – and she is making a difference.

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