FCG International Award for Thought and Humanities 2004:  Somaly Mam

 

“For the dedication in her career on behalf of women’s rights in dramatic circumstances that involve taking serious personal risks; in her fight against sexual exploitation that degrades human dignity; and for her work in favour of justice in the name of liberty and the right to a life worth living”.

According to the jury that met in Valladolid on July 12, 2004, chaired by, Mr. Alejandro Royo Villanova y Payá, President of “El Norte de Castilla”; and made up by the following members; Mr. Santiago Alonso Paniagua, Managing Director of the daily publication ABC; Mr. Miguel Ángel Cortés Martín, former Secretary of State of the International Cooperation and for Latin America; Mr. Félix Lázaro Lázaro, Journalist and Communications Director of Caja Duero; Mr. Benigno Pendás García; Professor of Political Theory of the University Complutense.

 

 Somaly Mam - Biography

 Somaly Mam (1970 Mondolkiri) native from the ethnic minority Phnong, of Cambodia, was sold as a slave various times and obligated to be a prostitute. During the regimen of Jermeres Rojos, she lived in the forest. In the 80’s she was trained to be a midwife and she worked, for two years, in very dangerous areas due to the war.

In 1991, she was able to escape the brothels of Phnon Penh and began to work, voluntarily, helping women from the brothels. She got married, and in 1993 she went to France, where she studied the French language.

In 1995 she returned to her country on a mission of Medicos sin Fronteras working on campaigns for AIDS prevention in high risk groups, focusing her work on the lifestyles and working conditions of sexually exploited girls. The following year, she founded (and has since presided) the association AFESIP “Acting for Women in Distressing Situations”. In 1997, she was named the Vice President first, and then President, of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution And Trafficking) in Cambodia. After an intense fight against prostitution, in 1998 she was forced to move to France, due to the death threats that she constantly received, and from there she continued to develop her fight “against modern slavery”.

That same year she received the Principe de Asturias Award for International Cooperation, together with Rigoberta Menchú, Graça Machel-Mandela, Fatiha Budiaf, Fatana Ishaq Gailani, Olayinka Koso-Thomas and Enma Bonino. In 1999 she was elected to be the President of the Confederation of Women’s Organizations in the region of ASEAN.

Despite the death threats, she returned to Cambodia, where she currently lives with her husband and children, to continue in her fight against the sexual exploitation of women and children.