Women’s rights: where are we today?

Numnual  Yapparat

Thai women gained the right to vote in 1932, the year of the revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy. However, women’s rights in Thailand have not made much progress since. The women’s movement in Thailand has experienced its ups and downs which are heavily dependent on the political situation. Some women activists are right wing and they supported the yellow shirts. The left wing groups are likely to be trade unionists, students and some academics. The other gender groups, such as GLBT people are focusing on single issues, but they came out to condemn Sutep’s mob, especially about the use of sexually abusive language against the Prime Minister.

Yes, these days we have lots of high profiles women. But high proportions of women, in high positions, do not guarantee that women in general will benefit from the current system.

When elite women talk about gender equality, it becomes like a fashion accessory to make them look good. It also becomes an excuse for governments not to do much to improve gender inequality. We have several kinds of women’s rights organisations which have been used as political tools to promote the role of ruling class women.

In 1973 when the student movement was in a fighting mode, the students raised issues about gender equality. They asked why women had to enter beauty contests because in doing so women would become only sex objects to promote the value in society that sex was for sale. They probed into the sex industry’s problems, family roles, marriage and sexual freedom. In 1990, trade unionists in the private sector won the right to paid maternity leave.

Today we have the first female Prime Minister, but she does not spearhead advances in gender issues. Yingluk chooses the conservative woman’s role in her behaviour and therefore she is very obedient, patient, compromising and unchallenging to the injustices in society. She may have been selected by Taksin and Pua Thai for that reason.

As the Prime Minister, she has been bullied by Sutep’s mob several times, but did not respond at all. If she accepts such unacceptable insults, then she gives legitimacy to those who want to entrench the idea that women should be second class citizens. If she had challenged Sutep’s mob’s sexism, it would have raised awareness about gender equality in society significantly.

Today, we still do not have abortion rights because the conservative elites give power to the monks and judges who claim to be our moral protectors. They claim that having abortion rights would encourage women to kill innocent infants and encourage promiscuous behaviour among women!  If we look at the role of monks in politics, some of them are very right-wing and even support violence.  Women should have the right over their own bodies.

What about the racist issue? Women’s bodies become a source of wealth for the big cosmetic corporations. Lots of women are crazy about having white skin. It is very sad to see my fellow citizens hate their own skin. We need a campaign against advertisements which try to sell whitening lotion. We need a campaign for people to accept their own beauty.

There is a long way to go for gender equality in Thailand and it can only happen with democracy.