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Mu Sochua's theatrical debut

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Seven a play about successful female leaders debuted in New York January 21 featuring Cambodia’s own Mu Sochua (below).

Mu Sochua is drained, having just returned to the capital from the campaign trail

in Kampot where she is fighting for seats in the National Assembly for the opposition

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). But she's in a reflective mood, and talking about matters

dear to her, she's revitalized.  

It is the four-year anniversary of her defection from Funcinpec to the SRP, a move

that was inspired by the murder of union activist Chea Vichea. And just hours before

speaking to the Post on January 21, halfway across the globe her incarnation was

stepping off a Manhattan stage.

Mu Sochua, SRP deputy secretary-general, was one of seven women from around the world

selected for portrayal in the documentary play Seven, which focuses on contemporary

female leaders who have triumphed against the odds. The production is a collaboration

between seven award-winning playwrights and Vital Voices Global Partnership-an international

women's nonprofit in Washington, DC whose stated mission is to "invest in emerging

women leaders and build the capabilities, connections, and credibility they need

to unlock their potential as catalysts of global progress."

Sochua says she was first contacted by Vital Voices about the play in mid-2007. Her

monologue was crafted by French playwright Catherine Filloux, a friend of Sochua's

whose body of work has centered on genocide, in particular on the trauma experienced

by Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge.

The production's debut on January 21 drew an over-capacity crowd of 800, each paying

$18 to see the show at the 92nd Street theater in New York. The performance will

run at other venues in New York City, including a March 6 show as a celebration of

International Women's day, before touring universities around the country and possibly

abroad, according to Vital Voices spokeswoman Eileen Reed.

The director, playwrights and staff of Vital Voices who were involved in the play

all donated their time to make the production a reality, she adds.

Sochua says she was touched to find herself in the same narrative as the six other

women, describing them as "people who can't sit still in front of injustice."

Represented in the play alongside Sochua are Hafsat Abiola of Nigeria, an advocate

for human rights and democracy; Farida Azizi of Afghanistan, who fought against the

marginalization of women under Taliban rule; Annabella De Leon, a congresswoman of

Guatemala who raised herself and her family out of poverty by getting an education

and now campaigns for rights for the poor; Russian Marina Pisklakova-Parker, who

in 1993 founded her country's first hotline for victims of domestic violence; Inez

McCormack of Northern Ireland, an activist for women's rights and social justice;

and Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan, whose story captured headlines around the world when,

after being gang raped as payback for an alleged "honor crime," she pursued

her attackers through the country's justice system instead of bowing to cultural

pressure and remaining silent.

"Knowing about these women makes me feel like I'm ok, like I'm not crazy,"

says Sochua, a 2005 co-nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex

trafficking of women in Cambodia and Thailand. 

Sochua appears humbled at being placed amongst such august company on the stage.

"Why me? My story is so lame compared to the others," she says. "I

haven't even been to jail!"

For Sochua, the audacity of her companions encourages her to push harder.

"I envy the woman in Guatemala who stood up to corruption. I wonder today if

I have the courage to go all the way like she did," she says, adding that reading

the script had a cathartic effect.

"I'm glad this is happening at the same time as the campaign trail. On the campaign

trail there's an aim and you want to be tough, suppress your feelings. But this play

reassured me I'm human."

Melanne Verveer, chairwoman and cofounder of Vital Voices, says Seven was intended

to be inspiring to theatergoers by revealing how individual women have overcome seemingly

insurmountable hurdles to justice and freedom. "We hope the Seven stories will

inspire audiences to commit themselves to changing our world for the better,".

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