Chiang Mai – Thailand
“This patience makes me strong”
My name is Mong. I am 36 years old. I was born in Chiang Mai. My parents are from one of the districts of Mae Hong Son province, along the Thai-Burmese border. My parents moved to Chiang Mai for work, so I was born here, I studied here and I work here. I am from the Karen ethnic community
I have been working for Weave (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment – visit their website here) since 2005. I started in Mae Hong Son for almost 2 years and then I came to work in Chiang Mai. I am assistant director for the Weave Fair Trade Social Enterprise.
I would describe myself as a patient person, especially since I became a mother 7 years ago. Being a mother is not easy, you have to be patient with the children and juggle with your work and your family. This patience makes me strong. I think mothers have a lot of patience. I am a quiet person, I don’t say much but I think a lot.
“In the end, I know that I can stand on my own”
My dad passed away when I was 11 years old. My mother raised me and my siblings alone. She had a lot of patience, and a lot of love for us. She was strong and resourceful, she knew we shouldn’t depend only on men. She taught me to be able to stand on my own. My mom has been my role model since I was a child. I saw how strong she was, and even if she didn’t directly told me how to be like her, I learnt by watching her. I try to be like her.
Even if I have a husband now, sometimes we don’t get along well. Sometimes we have difficulties but in the end, I know that I can stand on my own. I know I could raise my daughter on my own and keep working.
I have a good job compared to my husband. At first, he thought I was the only one leading the family and he felt embarrassed and he wasn’t happy about it. We’ve had many arguments about that. Men still think that they always have to be the leader of the family, even if their wife has a higher position or a higher income than them. That’s very challenging, not only for me but also for many of my friends. Sometimes men are not ready to accept that we are more successful, but I don’t care!
I don’t think being a woman has ever stopped me from doing anything. Maybe because I know myself and my abilities. And I already know how the society needs to be changed. Even if we only have a small voice, we still need to raise it up, we need to claim our rights. I think I started to think like that when I joined WEAVE and I started to understand more about violence and discrimination. We conduct women’s rights workshops on the field, but we have to be careful. For example, there was this woman who had learnt about her rights and raised it up with her husband, later her husband killed her, because she knew her rights and raised her voice.
“Men are still always the leaders, it is still in the culture”
I have seen many women working in high position, even at the governmental level. Not as many as men yet, but it’s increasing, and I think education has a lot to do with this change.
Even in my community, women are getting more educated, so they can get higher positions. Before, access to education was limited for women because of our culture and our traditional way to consider the social role of women in the society. Before, leadership positions were exclusively for men. Now there is an increasing trend of people talking about women’s rights, women’s leadership, and women’s empowerment so things are changing and women are making their way in leadership positions but it is still not balanced. I think it will still take many years before we reach an equal situation.
I think only some communities are respectful of women, but most of society, they are not making it balanced.
In my community we are quite respectful of women, but some roles are still for men only. For some things, we automatically think “it’s not for me”. And we can’t do anything about it. I don’t understand why at that time I wasn’t resisting! Many Thai girls, they don’t know their rights so they can’t fight for them. I think it’s still the case today.
The situation is unequal because traditionally men are leaders but also because women lack confidence. Besides, for change to really happen, the government should make the example and so far gender inequality is even more accurate in the public sector than in the private one.
“If they can earn an income then they can have a voice in their family”
In my community, the Karen ethnic, women are respected by their husbands and from the community. They have a lot of leadership. I am not sure if the situation is completely balanced but in our community men are more respectful towards women, maybe because we are Christians. Even my colleague downstairs (he is a man), who is also Karen, one day we talked about this issue and he was saying that in his family his sister has more leadership and that he respects it. In his family, his mother has more voice than his father. For people in the city, in some families women have more voice than men, but in others, men really have the control, we have two styles.
In the Thai community, many women are abused. When men control the money it can create problems. One of my friends, for instance, doesn’t work so she completely depends on her husband, this is why she doesn’t have a voice. In my community, most women work outside and because they can earn money by themselves they are more respected by the community.
In the Thai society, in most households, it’s only the women who take care of the children and the housework. In my tribe also, only women take care of the chores. I think these responsibilities fall on women because of tradition and culture. But nowadays, women work more outside. It expends the work for women, because in the house women are still the ones who have to do all the cleaning. Men just provide a small help.
I think the main challenge for women in Thailand is about economic opportunities. If they can have more opportunity then they can have more control of their own life. If they can earn an income then they can have a voice in their family. If women can work, they can have more leadership in the family. And in my community, I have seen many women being leaders of the community.
Nowadays, finding jobs is hard for both gender but opportunities to find a good job are more limited for women. In the Thai society, it’s not really balanced yet. For instance in my community, the main challenge is that when women have children, they have to stay at home to take care of them which prevent them from working and bringing a financial support to the family. Because they can’t participate in bringing income to the household they have less power and less right to make decisions.
In my community, the labor market is segregated for women as only a few careers are open to them: farming and handicrafts. And since, women have less strength than men, when they work on the farm they receive a lower labor payment than men.
Women have to know their rights, but not just them, also the husbands and the rest of the community need to understand, and if it works, it’s already a success in that level. Because we can’t do it for the whole country at once, so we go one community at a time. And we need to start with the children, they need to understand. We need to do something for our new generations. We need to start when they are still very young and then it can make change happen in the world.
“Education will protect them”
I have a daughter now.
At her school, every year they elect a class leader. It’s always a boy who gets the class leader position. I asked my daughter about it and she said “the teacher said it should be like that”. Even if they try to have a better situation at school, some things are still in the mindset, we need time to change that.
I would like my daughter to be strong and to stand on her own. The other young girls too, I want them to know their rights, they have to learn, they have to study. Education will protect them. Without education, men will not accept women. If we have education, we can look for good jobs, we can earn our own income, we can reach high positions, especially I think in the capital. In the city women have more voice than in the country side. It’s still very present in our society, people in the city they can have a better education, but outside, it’s still too difficult. Some don’t have money to get higher education and some can’t study anymore because they have to work even as a labor.
For things to change, we should start with children. If they respect women since they are young, it will make the whole society more respectful of women. It’s more difficult for adults, if men already have this mindset, it’s difficult to change it.
In theory, the institutions like police or justice, they are supposed to be supportive of women, but in practice, they aren’t. This is why we have many NGOs for women.
“It should not be acceptable but on TV they make it look fun and entertaining”
Media and social means of communication are a new weapon that can be used to raise people attention over women’s rights and gender equality. I think now with social media and internet, it helps raise a lot of issues regarding abuse against women to the public. It makes people aware of challenges women face and about women’s rights. I think it’s a good tool to make people more aware and make them respect women, even if in practice it is difficult, but at least they can now understand the concept. I think social media can give women a voice. Right now women are voiceless, but if these issues can be spread out then people will start to be aware of it and will let women speak up.
The media has a really big impact on people’s mindset. Everyone watches television, in the city or the countryside. But the problem with Thai television whether it is on TV shows, soap operas and other programs, is that it promotes violence and discrimination against women.
It leads people to accept this kind of behavior, it should not be acceptable, but on TV they make it look entertaining and fun, and a lot of people misunderstand that those behaviors are wrong. Some think that it’s something that they can do, especially men, since it is glamorized on TV. The media industry is responsible for this. Censor groups are trying to pressure TV producers to stop promoting violence against women and sometimes they even censored some programs. Thanks to their work, on some channel it is a bit better but there is a long way to go before it’s off the TV.
“I feel like it’s difficult to raise this issue with men. In Thai society we still feel like we have to respect men”
Women don’t share about issues they face because they don’t know their rights. People never raise those issues. Not even in my community. This is why we don’t question why one activity or another is just for men. And in the school’s curriculum, there is nothing about women’s issues. I learnt nothing about that at school, and it’s still the same nowadays. We have a class for health but not for rights. They teach about reproductive health, but the Thai people are very shy. With my family I was too shy to talk about that, but I could talk about it with my friends.
Now that I know about women’s rights, first I try to pass that onto my daughter. But I also try to encourage my friends, whenever we talk about that, I raise this issue. But I never do it with men, not even with my husband. Sometimes I mention it, but I’m not sure if he listens or not. Whenever I see something on TV about it, I will try to engage a conversation and talk about women’s rights, but he always stays quiet. Because I complain about men and he is also a man, maybe that’s why he stays quiet. I feel like it’s difficult to raise this issues with men. In the Thai society we still feel like we have to respect men, so before we share, we need to make sure that those men are willing to debate and hear our arguments or not. Otherwise we waste our time. Sometimes they take it personally, like you are attacking them, and then they get upset. But when you are a mother you get more and more honest about the fact that the role of men is very very small.
WEAVE works in partnership with ethnic minority women believing that women empowerment benefits their whole communities. WEAVE gives women the opportunity to access education building confidence and promoting skill development. WEAVE encourages women to take leadership and share skills in their families and communities.