In Cambodia, the women are saying, “No!”

 

Yorm Bopha

Yorm Bopha, Tep Vanny, Phan Chhunreth, Song Srey Leap, and Bo Chhorvyfive women land rights activists – were arrested today, while peacefully petitioning for the release of other Boeung Kak lake activists arrested over the weekend. Boeung Kak lake, in the heart of Phnom Penh, has been the site of major `urban development’, which means mass evictions. And women have been the heart of the Boeung Kak lake pro-democracy, women’s rights, community rights, land rights movements.

These arrests take place against the backdrop of the recent women garment worker demonstrations across Cambodia, and the State response of criminalization and repression of public dissent and gathering. Women workers have been protesting for over a year. In many ways, they have been protesting for decades.

This is the face of Cambodian `stability’ and `development’: women facing mass eviction, women facing super exploitation. In both instances, the logic has followed the gender of sacrifice. Women must give up land and lives for `the good of the nation.’ Around the world, this is a familiar tune, the song women as silver or diamond, and the women of Cambodia reject it, as they have for decades.

At one of the intersections of land rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights stands Mu Sochua.

As government forces attacked women garment workers, over the weekend, Mu Sochua, an opposition Member of Parliament, explained and contextualized. She explained that the workers’ demonstration were about a living wage and about democratic governance. She explained that, for the first time, all the trade unions had joined together and had joined together with the Cambodia National Rescue Party. When the State fired its AK47s, it took aim at both labor and democracy, and the heart of those movements, this weekend as so often before, is women workers, organizers, and advocates.

According to Mu Sochua, “The workers are now hiding. They’re living in fear. Do you want to wear clothes made by people who live in fear? With the wages they get today, they can’t even get three nutritious meals in a day. … Does the international community want to continue to support this kind of dictatorship … and support international buyers who make billions while our workers are deprived of basic rights?”

Mu Sochua has been posing the question, and pushing the crisis, of human rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, democracy in Cambodia for a long time. Sochua has been targeted by the State and has kept on keeping on. She led the struggle against the hyper-exploitation and abuse of Cambodian women and girls working as domestic workers in Malaysia. She connected the development logic of landgrabbing within Cambodia to the export of women workers by Cambodia. Sochua founded Khemera, the first women’s rights organization and the “first indigenous NGO” in modern Cambodia. She has faced imprisonment and worse, and much of this while a sitting Member of Parliament.

Throughout, Mu Sochua’s message has been clear. Democracy matters. Women matter. Justice matters. Cambodia matters. The garment factories of Cambodia have been reaping mass profits while cutting workers’, women workers’, salaries. The State has been claiming democracy while ignoring the will of the people, in development projects for the rich, in industrial production, in national elections. Do you want to support dictatorship, political, economic, and `developmental’? In Cambodia, the women are saying, “No!”

 

(Photo Credit: Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.