Perspectives: Women's Economic Empowerment and Gender Justice
Sou Sotheavy holds the David Kato Vision & Voice Award she received in 2014. The award was given to acknowledge her last two decades working to establish a national network of organizations to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across Cambodia. This photo was taken in front of her house in Takeo province, March 2019. Photo: Naratevy Kek/Oxfam
Ms Sou Sotheavy, Trangender Activist
Sotheavy is a transgender and humanitarian activist who suffered terribly from torture, rape, discrimination and violence since the demise of the Pol Pot regime just because she is different from others.
My name is Sou Sotheavy. I don’t remember how old I am but I was born in 1940. I have lived in Kantourt village, Takeo province, since 1975, the start of the Pol Pot regime. I suffered a lot from discrimination since I would dress like a woman and kept my hair long. I forget many things but one thing that is still with me and will be with me until I die is remembering the hope to see light shed on LGBTQI rights.
A Life of Devotion for LGBTQI Rights
I started to realize that I was a transgender female when I was five years old. My parents could not accept the way I behaved so at the age of 15, I had to leave home and became a prostitute. My life has been filled with trauma till now. There were many times my life went down to a low ebb but there was a time when I stood up and devoted my life to fight for my rights, led advocacy work for LGBTQI rights and to help Cambodians living with HIV/AIDS.
I became involved in an outreach program on HIV/AIDS with the Khmer Development Freedom Organization (KDFO) in 1985. In 1999, I focused my attention on LGBT and established the Cambodian Network for Men Women in Development (CMWD)—the first NGO in Cambodia to support LGBT people—where I served as director. After two decades of work, in 2014, I was awarded the David Kato Vision & Voice Award in Germany.
I am old now. I’m living alone, semi-paralyzed. I cannot do anything more to support LGBTI people but my spirit is with them.
My message to LGBTQI, please keep on fighting for your rights, please fight for your rights and love each other. I hope the government will allow LGBTQI people to marry and be accepted in the workplace. I hope all parents will accept this reality by not discriminating against their children as they are naturally born with that behavior. Please let them live a happy life.