Women Leaders Rule - Let Them!
I met Mu Sochua, an elected member of the Cambodian parliament and a tireless advocate for women's rights and the victims of injustice, when I visited Cambodia in February with a delegation of women led by World Pulse. Mu Sochua was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand. Vital Voices honored Mu Sochua with the 2005 Human Rights Global Leadership Award for her efforts to stem the tide of human trafficking. She is a remarkable woman.
When we met, we were a small group of women who had come to visit the country and learn of the powerful (and tireless) work of women. Mu Sochua shared very personally and directly with us her struggles in Cambodia. She brought her delightful daughter (the youngest of three) who was soon to head to college in the United States. Mu Sochua came across as a smart, elegant and courageous fighter against corruption and deceit, and a bold leader in the fight to protect and improve the lives of Cambodian women.
Word came last on Friday night from Beth Klein, one of my fellow travellers on the World Pulse trip, that Mu Sochua had filed a defamation suit against the Cambodian prime minister and expected to be arrested soon and thrown into the general population of a Cambodian jail.
Unfortunately, I know the drill, because this is not the first time that I have received news that a strong woman opposition politician is under attack by a government that fears true opposition. In late December, I received a similar call about another courageous leader, Birtukan Mideksa, from Ethiopia. She has been held in solitary confinement on trumped up charges for 4 months.
The drill begins again, all too soon. I go to the World Pulse website and post an urgent action alert. I go to all of the websites that care about global women and post, or, if there is already a post (hurray!!), I comment. I update, update, update. This time, the news of Mu Sochua is getting much more traction than we were able to generate for Birtukan. While some of the US politicians did sign petitions of support, and others sent representatiion to local events, for the most part the US mainstream media has ignored the plight of this 35 year old brilliant woman leader. Thankfully, Mu Sochua has many well-connected allies in the US. It will be much harder for the Cambodia government to jail her and for the story to virtually disappear, as has been the case with Mideksa.
As a mother, I struggle with the decisions that these women must make to stand up for the rights of all women while sacrificing their own families. I asked Beth during our call if she could think of one outcome for women politicians around the world who stood up for what was right where the result was favorable. I am sure there are some, but all we could think of at that moment were Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, Birtukan Mideksa. All won national elections but the government in power disputed the results, never let them serve in their elected roles or removed them soon after coming to power, using made up charges to persecute these amazingly brave women. But, even worse, there is a very damaging tidal wave effect that engulfs their families - motherless children caught in a political tsunami. It's a sacrifice I don't know if I could make but I salute these women for doing what so many of us could not. And I especially put my arms around those brave children who will grow up knowing of the courage of their mothers but missing so much of their mother's loving touch.
We must stop this brutality. We cannot let acts like this discourage other women from working for leadership positions in their countries' political structure. We must shout from the rooftops until the world notices what is happening and is forced by the overwhelming evidence of discrimination to say enough is enough.
We are with you Mu Sochu, Birtukan Mideksa, Aung San Suu Kyi.