Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Gender politics has always taken a back seat among the policies of Thailand’s political parties. This is because of the weakness of gender social movements and the weakness of the left.
Mainstream pro-democracy parties like Pua Thai (and its sister party “Thai Raksa Chart”) pay lip service to gender equality, but there is little concrete detail about any policies. The Future Forward Party and the Thai Pua Chart Party (another sister party of Pua Thai!) say that there needs to be changes to existing laws. But they tend to add that the issue of gender rights is “sensitive” in society, thus providing themselves with a get out clause. Many parties also admit that there is internal disagreement within the party over gender rights. [See Prachatai https://bit.ly/2DYsbuU ]. Importantly, most parties are not prepared to agitate among the population to achieve changes in people’s attitudes. They prefer to emphasise the need to win votes and follow existing attitudes in society.
This is not surprising, since in capitalist society, progress on gender rights is the result of campaigns by social movements, trade unions and the left and not due to any innate pro-gender rights ideology among main stream parties of the right. Worldwide, increases in women’s participation in the workforce has resulted in greater confidence among women to demand more rights and this has spilled over into the LGBT movement. At the same time, capitalism still requires women to carry out unpaid family work and this is the source of conservative family values which go against gender rights. There is always a tension between these two factors. Thailand is no exception.
Increased participation by women in the workplace has resulted in trade unions pushing for maternity leave, child care and abortion rights. But the women’s movement is very weak and dominated by middle-class women who are only interested in equality for women in managerial and elite political roles. Many members of the women’s movement also supported the destruction of democracy.
Thailand, along with other South-East Asian societies, has a long history of transgender people being tolerated, though not respected. There have never been any law which criminalise gay men, lesbians or transgender people. The LGBT movement tended to grow out of NGO activity.
LGBT activists have been commenting on the draft bill on Civil Partnerships which was initiated under the Yingluk government before Prayut’s military coup. Recently the BBC Thai website published a discussion about this [see https://bbc.in/2P5xn1T ].
Although LGBT activist say that this draft bill is a step forward, many say it does not go far enough. This is because Civil Partnership gives less rights to the partners than marriage between men and women. For example, there is no provision for adoption of children, tax reduction, or the use of a partner’s surname. One activist suggested that the way to solve this problem is to change the marriage law and make it concerned with marriage between “people” rather than just men and women.
Transgender and non-binary activists also criticise the draft law for doing nothing to improve the rights of transgender and non-binary people. They have no choice regarding their gender preferences and no rights as transgender and non-binary people.
The weakness of the LGBT movement is reflected in their use of many English terms. Given that ordinary people hardly speak any English, their activism is rooted among the middle-classes, leaving working class people unorganised. This needs to be addressed.
What is needed is a socialist party of the working class which would campaign on concrete gender issues such as LGBT rights to marry or have children and to choose their own gender classifications, including the right not to be classified. Such a party would also have to campaign for abortion rights and state subsidised child care. These gender issues need to be linked to other demands in society such as the demand for real democratic rights, freedom of expression, the right to self-determination for the people of Patani and labour rights. This could be done by building mass social movements and linking them up in solidarity networks. Yet the political parties which will be taking part in the next election have no such agenda.