By Soy Sophea
The Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An has spent 40 minutes in the company of Cambodia Weekly reporters on January 20, 2009. The interview took place at her office in the National Assembly of Cambodia.
Life before and during Battle FieldThe Deputy Prime Minister wanted to become a nurse for her country during the civil war in Cambodia during the late 1960s. During that time, she saw airplanes drop bombs into her home village in Sambo district, Kratie province, about 315 kilometers from Phnom Penh. She recalled her emotions when she saw her fellow villagers wounded and killed.
“I decided to take part in the resistance movement to fight against the US-backed Lon Nol regime, hoping to find peace for my home village,” she said. “I devoted my life to my country. If I did not join the movement I would have regretted it for life,” she added.
The Deputy Prime Minister said there was little chance to relax in the middle of a battlefield. She remembered that when she started to work in the resistance movement she was asked what she wanted to do. She replied that she wanted to serve as a nurse to help her people.
She received a three-month political science course during that time, before graduating to the resistance movement. After this training, she felt more confident and felt she could leave her family behind and strike out for herself. Being a nurse, she wanted to serve her villagers and community rather than fight, but there was little chance of that.
“It was very dangerous if we were careless,” she said.
Life after the Civil War
After the US-backed Lon Nol regime and the Pol Pot regime collapsed in 1979, she stood as the Managing Police Commissioner and chairwoman of the Cambodian Women for Peace and Development Association (CWPD). Bun Rany Hun Sen, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, was honorary president. She is also the President of the Cambodian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (CAPPD).
In the new assignment to rebuild human resources, she said it was hard to court the Cambodian intelligentsia following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, because they were afraid to publicize their identities after the Killing Field abominations. She said that it took time to get the remaining intellects to work in concert after Pol Pot.
Men Sam An, is now the first Cambodian woman to be appointed as Deputy Prime Minister under the fourth mandate of the Royal Government of Cambodia, and also the first Cambodian woman to become an honorary 4-star general.
She thanked Cambodian Prime Minister Hunn Sen, Senate President Chea Sim, and Heng Samrin, President of National Assembly, top leaders of ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), for their support.
Thanks to the CPP government, she said that Cambodian women are encouraged to take a key role in Cambodian society as set out in the government’s Rectangular Strategy and Gender Policies. She noted that “To be a successful woman in Cambodia, one has to devote their life to all of society, work hard, be patient, have a strong sense of commitment, be kind, but follow the orders,” she said.
She noticed that in the fourth government mandate, qualified women are present in the national, provincial and district administrations, and also at the Senate and the National Assembly.
“I am proud to see Cambodian society develop out of little or nothing, rebuilding our country from zero,” she said. “You see full peace, political stability, economic growth, better infrastructure, annual income up to 500 USD per capita, and a long list of other improvements.”
“What I want most is to see my people live in peace with prosperity dignity and happiness,” Sam An said.
However, she added that as a result of Gender policies, she wanted to eliminate the environment in which “a woman’s work is never done”. She said it was not a matter of working harder, but smarter and with a sense of personal responsibility.
Political Peace Maker
As a standing member of the Cambodian People’s Party, Men Sam An joined fully to find a reasonable political resolution to the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is the CPP’s Vice President to implement the peaceful political willingness.
“All top leaders of the party and I have taken care when finding peaceful political compromises,” she said. “We know how bad the alternatives can be. The Win Win Policy helps prevent further civil war.”
Life At Home
“I have never forgotten my duty as housewife although I am now the deputy prime minister,” she said. “As a Cambodian woman, I need to have spare time for my family and now I am a grand mother with two grandchildren so I am kept very busy.”
She said that although she has more jobs and responsibilities to cover for the nation she still finds time to manage her family. She suggested that Cambodian women who serve in high positions either in government agencies or companies should spend time with their families. She said that, “You [women] are now the back bone of the society but you should not forget your duty at home. It is your source of happiness.”
“I always take care when doing my housework despite my high position in the government,” she said. “But, I never forget my duty as a housewife.”
She noted that a lady who can create domestic tranquility as well as hold down a job were precious. “You [women] are much appreciated if you can deal them both.”
Her Favorite Food
As a Cambodian woman from Kratie province, the high ranking officer loves traditional Khmer fish dishes. “I do like dried fish,” she said. “It might be simple and basic but I have not forgotten it.”
Men Sam An married Senator Peng Pat. They have two sons. She serves at national level as Senior Minister and Minister with the Senate & National Assembly Relations. She is also Chairwoman of the National Assembly’s Health, Social and Women Affairs Commission, Chairwoman of Education and Propaganda and President of the Cambodia Union Federation.////////