VIDEO: Mu Sochua — Sending the Right Signal to Cambodia’s Women

Published on World Pulse, by Rhyen Coombs, Sept 23, 2009.

“For women who are battered, who are sold, who are facing such a challenge to access the court—I have to go all the way.”

World Pulse sat down with MP and women’s rights activist Mu Sochua in Berkeley, CA, just before she returned to Cambodia, where she fears new charges of treason and prison for her fight against corruption.

Just before returning to Cambodia, where she faces legal pressure and a possible prison sentence, women’s rights advocate and Member of Parliament Mu Sochua sat down with World Pulse in Berkeley, CA. She was winding down a six-week visit to the US, where she spoke out against government corruption and eroding human rights in her home country, and launched a fundraising campaign for her latest women’s initiative, called DEVI. 

It was a long trip for Sochua—the longest she had been away from Cambodia since she returned there in 1989, after spending 18 years in exile from the violence of the Khmer Rouge. Since then, she has been a champion of the women’s movement, battling sex trafficking and domestic violence, and serving as the first female Minister of Women’s Affairs in 1998. As a member of the opposition party, she organized 25,000 women to run for office in 2002, with 900 elected …

… The global financial crisis has hit Cambodia’s garment exports hard. Until recently, according to the International Labor Organization, the largely female industry employed 350,000 people and generated nearly 80% of the country’s export earnings. However, when orders from the West plummeted, exports fell by a third, forcing many factories to shut down or begin lay-offs. By June, according to ILO estimates, 64,000 garment workers had lost their jobs – most of them uneducated women from rural communities.

A July report from the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking indicates that many are turning to karaoke bars, beer gardens, and sex parlors as their best option. This, says Sochua, is an alarming trend.

“Women who are entering the entertainment sector industry in Cambodia are faced with violence and exploitation,” she said. “That choice is not a great choice.”

DEVI Crepes could offer them a better one.

The project intends to give women the tools and training to run their own food cart businesses in Phnom Penh, where organic, hygienically-prepared crepes are healthier than the average street food and would sell well. The $256 invested by DEVI in working capital and equipment – such as pans, utensils, and the cart itself – would then be repaid by each woman over 18 months. According to DEVI projections, a former garment worker could make $200 a month operating her cart – double what she would make on average in the entertainment industry.

“It is very cost-effective,” Sochua said. “It builds up confidence and self-reliance, as well as unity, and will push forward sustainable economic empowerment for women who have very little skills and very little education.”

If all goes according to DEVI’s most recent business plan, the first 10 crepe vendors will hit the streets of Phnom Penh in October. While DEVI must raise $20,000 to get the enterprise started, it intends to be self-sustainable by December 2010 … (full long text).

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