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Cambodian ‘Vital Voice’ Urges More Women’s Rights

Cambodian parliamentarian and human rights leader Mu Sochua meets with US Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton during a Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards event in Washington, DC on April 12, 2011.

Vital Voices, an organization for women leadership, held an annual awards ceremony in Washington this month, gathering many women from around the world who work toward greater rights.

The ceremony, held at the Kennedy Center in downtown Washington, honored seven women, including Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for their contributions in politics, advocacy and business. The other awardees came from Afghanistan, Cameroon, India, Israel, Palestine and the US.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, founder of the organization, said at the April 13 ceremony that each woman shared common values, despite the differences in their countries.

“They each look for ways to make systemic change, to lift the lives of thousands, even millions of people,” Clinton said. “They each have paid a price for their work in arrests or abuse or ridicule, insults, and isolation.”

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, who won the Vital Voices award in 2005, said women in Cambodia need to participate more in politics, in both grassroots and upper political leadership.

“We as women politicians must use the positions given to us by women voters to solve their suffering,” Mu Sochua said in Washington, where she spent several days earlier this month to to build support for the political and economic rights of women. “We must really solve their problems based on a basis of women helping women.”

At the National Democratic Institute, Mu Sochua briefed leaders on effort to help women prevent land-grabbing and forced evictions. She also met officials to discuss trafficking and forced labor, which the 2010 US human rights report acknowledged as a persistent problem in Cambodia.

“It is utterly crucial that such an important organization knows about women’s struggles, so that it can help change their lives and build democracy,” she told NDI, which she called “a main source of funding and also an information channel to US lawmakers.”

In an interview, she appealed for other Cambodian women to join and push for greater rights.

“All parliamentarians, especially those 90 members of the Cambodian People’s Party, should uphold the parliamentary power bestowed upon us,” she said. “Don’t protect your party principles, because as politicians we serve the voters, not the party.”