As the mother of three beautiful daughters, I have made it my life’s mission to foster powerful female role models they can look up to, those who face hardship head on and stand up for what they believe in. This has not been an easy road in my native country of Cambodia, where, like many countries, a traditionally male-dominated society has made it difficult for women to rise to the ranks of leadership. As a member of Parliament, I have consciously chosen to use my position in the public eye to showcase the incredible things women in my country and beyond can accomplish if we simply have the means and support to thrive. Investing in women’s leadership is a long-term commitment and a smart investment, as women are the catalysts for positive change and economic growth.
Women have the unique leadership traits of open-mindedness and inclusiveness, and a great ability to collaborate with others and transcend barriers to implement and develop creative solutions. If they are given the proper training, tools, and resources, I believe there is no limit to what female leaders can do.
In the face of adversity and criticism, it has always been the job of women to persevere and overcome hardship. The power to change social values and challenge the status quo takes courage and a supportive network that is with you in good times and bad. As someone who has benefited from mentors and compelling role models in my life, I also firmly believe in the multiplying factor of leadership training programs, particularly those dedicated to equipping women with the skills and means they need to confidentially take on positions of power. I wholeheartedly believe in the ability of women to promote much-needed stability and peace in their communities and around the globe. This is the goal of the Global Ambassadors Program, a partnership between Bank of America and Vital Voices, with whom I have worked for years. It is also my personal mission to help advance female leadership.
I work primarily with grassroots women because I see democracy as a seed that needs planting in the ground. In my life, I have chosen to battle the trafficking of women and the widespread violations and gender inequality that pervades my own nation. I have exposed the corruption within my own government and worked to make all Cambodians aware of their rights and the potential for democracy.
For my efforts to take a stand for what is right, I have been distorted by the pro-government media and labeled by the ruling party as a “traitor” for requesting that the U.S. government stop supporting the armed forces in Cambodia and its involvement in land grabbing. I have faced the possibility of arrest and been violently confronted by armed police and the military. To date, I have still been deprived of my parliamentary immunity for losing my court case against the prime minister of Cambodia.
There are so many women like me who have endured hostility and threats in their quests to improve their communities, families, and nations — and yet we continue to thrive. By sharing knowledge, skills, and networks, women can attain invaluable wisdom from one another and create a stronger ripple effect of positive change. By collaborating with one another, we can continue to transform the world into a better place, despite the opposition to us as women and as leaders.
Outside of my country, I am working to expand my connection with the women of Burma, where I began leadership training this year as Chairwoman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.
It brings me great satisfaction to see the growth of women’s networks all over the world. But much more still needs to be done. It is through collaborative efforts like the Global Ambassadors Program that extraordinary women leaders can make an impact at the community and national level — together.
With the inaugural trip of the Global Ambassadors Program to Haiti, I witnessed the success of the mentorship program firsthand. There, the five Global Ambassadors women joined forces with 100 Haitian women leaders from all over the country to create a platform for reconstruction of their country that has been embraced by President Martelly and the Haitian government. And recently in South Africa, almost two dozen women of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network and five Global Ambassadors came together to tackle a global challenge: Transforming Presence into Power: A Platform for Women’s Voice and Agency — in other words, leadership.
This program is transformative. In fact, I want the members of the Global Ambassadors Program to come to my own nation, where very brave grassroots women are standing up to challenge a government that lacks accountability to women’s human rights.
To be able to show my daughters what women can accomplish when we all come together around a central goal is very much a dream come true. And as someone who is not afraid to make waves in my own country, I look forward with eager anticipation to see what this powerful group of women from around the world will be able to accomplish in the coming months and years. I can only hope this program will inspire others to use this model far into the future to create lasting, positive change.