Sotheary's Blog

Stand up for Your Dream

Dated: 21 November 2016

Sotheary a graduate student who has been involved in social development work since she was an undergraduate student. Photo: UN Women/Pornvit Visitoran

Being a female young leader in Cambodia is challenging due to gender norms in a patriarchal society, primarily based on culture and tradition. I had to struggle against the societal norms on my path to becoming an inspiring young female leader. Now I am seen as a role model for other young people and the community at large and am often invited to speak at public events and on radio; and yet my leadership role is still not recognised as being within the capacity and ability of a woman. People always tell me that I am playing a man’s role. This is a notion I want to change.

I have a dream of Cambodia becoming a place where men and women equally enjoy and exercise their human rights. My passion to improve women’s position in society has been a thread throughout my personal and professional career. In 2014, I founded the Life of Women Human Rights Defenders project (LWHRD). The LWHRD is an oral history project that aims to raise public awareness regarding issues faced by women human rights defenders in Cambodia. The project documents and publishes the life stories of women human rights defenders through digital platforms and uses social media to reach and engage with a wider audience. As a result of the project, stories of women human rights activists have been published and reached thousands of people. In addition to the LWHRD project, I have led and coordinated several other advocacy activities.

In 2014, I organised ‘The March Eight Singing Campaign’, to raise awareness regarding discrimination and violence against women in Cambodian society. The campaign brought together a group of youths to sing in public spaces throughout Phnom Penh, followed by discussing with people who participated in our campaign, and as a result we reached people who normally do not engage in these issues. In 2015, I was selected to be a participant of Training of Trainers (ToT), organised by UN Women Asia-Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok. Following the training, I also transferred what I learned in Bangkok to Cambodian youth in Phnom Penh.

Eradicating gender-based violence (GBV) is key element in ensuring the equality and equity benefits of country development. Regardless of what people say about women – either positive or negative – I am optimistic that one day my dream will come true. If you believe that your mother, sister, auntie, female friend and other females are capable of doing whatever you are doing; don’t just stand and hope that other people will fulfill this dream for you! Stand up and show people: “Yes, the equality and equity between men and women is not just a dream anymore.”

Sotheary You is a graduate student at Duke University. Currently she is doing a Masters in International Development Policy (MDIP). She has been involved in social development work since she was an undergraduate student. Sotheary started her career in the women’s rights field in 2013, working with the victims of gender-based violence (GBV) under the Khmer Rouge regime. She is passionate about promoting women’s rights and ending violence against women, which she spends her time and energy to flight for. Sotheary has a dream of the place where she lives, and beyond, being a place where men and women can equally access their human rights. She is optimistic and inspired by this hope and possibility.