In elections from the State of Mexico to the councils of Cambodia, women are on the move

Delfina Gómez Álvarez

This weekend saw three major elections. In Lesotho, people went to the polls to elect a Prime Minister … for the third time in three years. Despite a heavy presence of military at the polls, generally reports are that everything was orderly and reasonably fair and free. The other two elections, for the Governor of the State of Mexico and for council and commune seats in Cambodia, the electoral story is all about women: Delfina Gómez Álvarez in Mexico, and in Cambodia, Mu Sochua, Tep Vanny, Preah Vihear, Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara and countless others. While the particularities from Mexico to Cambodia my change, the story of the insurgent ascendancy of women in response to neoliberal models of so-called development that tally women as so many disposable bodies is the same. From Mexico to Cambodia, women are saying NO!

In the State of Mexico, known as Edomex, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, of the relatively new leftist Morena party, has been running a fierce campaign against a candidate who is president Enrique Peña Nieto’s cousin and whose party has ruled Edomex for 90 years. Additionally, his father and grandfather were governors of Edomex. So, it was a done deal, right? Wrong. Delfina Gómez covered the state, from one end to the other and all points in between, and the State of Mexico is Mexico’s most populous and most densely populated state. Not a member of an illustrious family, Delfina Gómez had spent most of her adult life as a teacher. When she entered politics, in 2012, she ran for Municipal President of Texcoco, and won. Delfina Gómez Álvarez was the first woman to win a municipal election in Texcoco. Now she’s taking that to the State level. It’s unclear, as of now, who won the election. Both sides are claiming victory, and the margins are narrow. What is clear is Delfina Gómez Álvarez, standing loud and proud, and urging the people onward.

In Cambodia, women –  like Yorm Bopha, Tep Vanny, Phan Chhunreth, Song Srey Leap, and Bo Chhorvy and thousands of others – have led the campaigns against land grabs, mass evictions, and other forms of `urban development.’ With the elections coming up, many activists – such as Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara – decided to join Mu Sochua and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Woman after woman told a version of the same story. They had had enough of both the patriarchal national form of so-called development AND the patriarchal forms of opposition. Despite the difficulties of moving up in any Cambodia party bureaucracy, they decided the time is now. They had pushed for so long, and still the bulldozers came, whole communities were removed, and if there was any public outcry, it was short lived and then forgotten.

As in Edomex, the results of the elections are not altogether clear. The national ruling party seems to have won at the national level, but in many regions, the CNRP did well, and women candidates did well.

Winning an election is important, terrifically and often terribly important, but so is entering the race, and in Mexico and Cambodia this weekend, that’s what women did. Where are the women? They’re in the garment factories and, like activist Tep Vanny, in the prisons, and they’re in the polling booths, on the election posters, on the platform and dais, in the meetings, and soon, very soon, they will be in the governor’s estate, in the council and commune bodies, and beyond. Soon, very soon, and not just in Cambodia and Mexico.

Khum Rany

(Photo Credit 1: Excelsior / Cuartoscuro) (Photo Credit 2: Phnom Penh Post / Pha Lina)

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)