After 18 years in exile, she returned to Cambodia in 1989. In 1998, she was elected to the Cambodian National Assembly. She ran for a parliamentary seat in the North West of Cambodia (the most devastated region after the war), and won. In that same year, she became Minister of Women and a Veterans’ affairs, as one of only 2 women to join the cabinet.
During her 6 years as Minister of Women’s Affairs, Mu Sochua campaigned widely for gender justice throughout Cambodia’s remote villages to end violence against women and halt the exploitation of female workers. To achieve these goals, she helped to draft the country’s law against domestic violence, negotiated an international agreement with Thailand to curtail human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and launched a campaign to engage NGOs, law enforcement officials, and rural women in a national dialogue. During her mandate, she campaigned widely with civil society and NGOs to encourage women at the grassroots to run as candidates for commune elections, the first of their kind in the history of Cambodia. 25,000 women became candidates and over 9% were elected in 2002. Mu Sochua repeatedly declares,
“I am a strong supporter and advocate for a gender quota, although this special measure is yet to be adopted by the government. As Cambodia is preparing for the next commune elections in 2012 and parliamentary elections in 2013, the voice of women remain strong in ensuring that at least 30% of women will gain seats at all levels”.
Mu Sochua declined a ministerial post in the new government of 2004, joining the opposition party instead, to fight corruption and government oppression against democracy and human rights. She became an MP for the party as well as a Member of its Steering Committee. Additionally, elected in 2009 as the SRP’s official Women’s Wing leader, she has continued the battle, furthering the SRP’s core “bottom-up” approach by seeking out urban and rural women to target their specific needs and develop their political potential. She believes,
“My focus has been strongly on democracy and human rights. I currently advise on a wide network of civil society groups and trade unions on strategies to widen space for democracy”.
As president of the SRP Women’s Wing, Mu Sochua has been leading teams of grassroots women to walk the campaign trail in order to raise awareness of the issues and mobilize voters. Mu Sochua’s journey takes her to hundreds of the most remotes villages, to malaria-infested regions of Cambodia, and to rice fields that are still covered by land mines. Defining her approach, she says,
“My approach to peace has always been through building voices and forces with various groups, either at local, national, regional or international level. I strongly believe in a life free from fear and violence. My efforts have always been for long-term development which includes development of human resources for Cambodia, where most of our teachers, doctors, judges were killed during the Khmer Rouge years”.
Further, describing how she has coped with violence against women in politics, and how we should tackled this pervading issue, she says,
“More than once I have come face to face with armed police and military. My strategy for self-protection is to remain vocal, visible and high profile. I strongly believe in people’s participation and in giving women a fair share of development. This can only happen when the government demonstrates a strong political will to develop and implement policies that create special measures and opportunities for women to gain a fair share of development. Discrimination and violence against women can be addressed when sociaety as a whole values women as human brings and as equal partners. As a woman leader I lead with the strong belief that women bring stability and peace, at home, in their communities and for the nation. I feel most satisfied when the women’s networks move together, create a critical mass and gain political space.”