Thailand

The normalization of gender discrimination

Anonymous

Bangkok, Thailand

“When I was a child I thought women should take care of the household (…) no one told me, I just saw it around me”

I’m 32 years old. I live in Bangkok but originally I’m from the northeast region of Thailand. I’m working for an NGO that focuses on refugees at the Thai Burma border.

I’m single and I don’t have any children. I grew up in a middle class family and I have younger sisters.

I think I’m a very quiet person. I’m not very outgoing (?), but I think that when I want something I try really hard to get it. That’s just me.

When I was a child I thought women should take care of the household, and take care of the cooking, house chores and the children… No one told me it should be like that, but I just saw it all around me. My mother and grandmother are housewives. Khon Kaen, my hometown, is a big city, but a lot of poor families live there. Children are treated equally, they all have to work and help their family. But usually boys work outside on farms or the like and girls stay home to help with the house chores.

I don’t recall facing any particular challenges in my childhood because of my gender.

The only thing I remember was that when I was in primary school I wanted to wear pants to go to school like a boy, but my mother and teacher said I couldn’t. I had to wear a skirt, but at that time I had a lot of scars on my legs.  They were due to mosquito bites and it was very ugly, so I wanted to wear long pants to hide them. But, no one allowed me so I had to wear a skirt. I tried to explain it to my teacher, that it was very ugly and I didn’t want my friends to see it because I was afraid that they would think that I had some type of contagious disease. So, I kept trying to explain them and I even cried. I cried! But the teacher wouldn’t allow it, so I had to wear a skirt that revealed my scars. It was very embarrassing for me.

“The top ranks are always for men”

I have a bachelor degree in literature. When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. I liked drawing. But I didn’t do it because my mother and father said that if I became an artist I wouldn’t earn much money to support myself

When I was young, I didn’t feel life was going to be harder because I was a woman. Apart from the story I told you earlier, I didn’t witness or be the victim of any inequality. Even though I was a girl, people treated me equally. Even my grandmother who is Chinese, and Chinese people like boys more than girls in general, treated me and my nephews equally. And now, nobody is pressuring me to get married, a lot of my friends and colleagues who are my age are single, there is no pressure.

A lot of my friends and colleagues who are about my age, they also remain single. Nobody is pressuring me to get married.

I’ve always felt comfortable talking about women’s issues with my female friends, but in my family I never talked much about it because it was never an issue.

At my workplace, it’s not an issue because I’m working in an international environment, but for example, if you work for a Thai company like some of my friends or you are working for a government institution, the top ranks are always for men. The leaders are always men, there are not much women as I see.

“I’m afraid every time I go out at night”

I live in Bangkok and I’m afraid every time I go out at night. As a girl, if I have something to do outside in the middle of the night, I would feel unsafe because we hear a lot on the news about harassment or sexual abuse and it could happen to me too. For example, if I go outside, the motorcycle taxi drivers, they look at me in a way that makes me feel unsafe. When I’m leaving the condominium, they have a security guard so I feel safe, but when I go outside and see a lot of men I don’t feel safe anymore. They work near the condominium and I feel unsafe, but maybe they don’t think of anything but still, I feel uncomfortable.

I once went to the police station and reported an improper email that I had received from someone I didn’t know. The emails were filled with a lot of sexual language and implications. I wasn’t sure who had sent it to me. In the email, the person was also threatening me and saying “be careful as something might happen to you along the way home”. I felt really scared! I ran to the police station, but the police officer said, “They just threaten you, it’s not going to happen. If it was going to happen it would have happened already. If the person wanted to do it he would’ve done it without sending you a message”. That is what they told me. The police officer then wrote a daily report and that was it. No action! Later on, I remember carrying a knife in my hand and pepper spray in my bag. Luckily nothing happened to me, but I still feel scared until today. I also went to see my supervisor because I suspected that it might be coming from someone working in my office. My supervisor said, “Tt’s not going to happen. You just think way too much”. Eventually, I just stopped thinking about it and I thought I had to take care of myself because obviously no one was going to do anything to ensure my security. I got Zero support, and my supervisor was a woman.

“I think women’s main challenge is about their right to speak up”

We should give knowledge to young girls, so that they understand that they have the right to speak up and say what they want and not just be influenced by their family. Children listen to their mother and father too much and don’t think by themselves. They are too concerned about their parent’s feelings over their own feelings. I think women’s main challenge is about their right to speak up. We should empower women so they have the right to speak up and not just let the men have all the say so. Actually I haven’t seen that much change. It’s still the same I think. If we look 50 years in the past then yes, there was a lot of development, But if were talking 5 to 10 years it’s about the same.

I think mothers should empower their girls to speak more. In my family, when we are at the table, my father will lead the conversation and everyone has to listen to him speak. My mother just stay silent. Sometimes I don’t agree with him, we have a lot of quarrels, he doesn’t take me seriously but it’s ok that I voice my opinion. When it comes to my mother saying something, he objects immediately and they argue because he always has objections towards her idea.

Gender equality is an issue that we don’t talk about in Thailand. I think the main reason is because women are not aware that they have the same rights. Some people interpret it wrong, for example: My colleagues said, “If you want gender equality then next time on the bus I won’t offer my seat to women and girls because we are equal”. The thing is I tried to explain to him that we are human. It’s not because of gender equality that you should stand up for women who is pregnant or for women on the bus. It’s not the same thing so don’t get it mixed up. Then he gets angry at me. We need to make men understand more about gender equality. I never heard about gender equality when I was at school. I heard about it for the first time when I worked for an NGO, I was about 24 years old. And I don’t see any action taken towards gender equality from the government. No policies or nothing.

“In the media (…) they only think about how to get a guy”

I think foreigners think Thai women make good wives. I think they see Thai women negatively. Especially girls from the north and the northeast region, they see them as a gold digger. They think those women want to find a rich husband and marry him so they don’t have to work much if they can catch a foreigner guy. I feel pity for those women, but I understand them. Growing up in the countryside in a poor family, I know life is hard and that girls have limited access to education. So, the easiest way to see the light at the end of the tunnel is to find a rich guy. Then they have friends to go in town to find jobs as a waitress or as a karaoke girl to find a rich guy and get married and have a happy life. They can send money back to their family. They can earn enough money to share with their family and they are very proud thinking this is the easiest way out of poverty. I do understand.

In the media, I see a lot of Thai soap opera. They only portray women who always quarrel with another girl to get a rich guy. It not like this all the time. In the media they wear a lot of cosmetics and they only think about how to get a guy. It makes me think this is how people see Thai women. In the media, sometimes women speak up and guys need to listen to them and sometimes they manipulate guys. So, I’m not sure that it promotes gender equality.

I think education is the best tool to change things. If teachers could teach us more about gender equality in school, right from the start when we are young, then gender equality would be better understand. So, education is the way to improve the situation of gender equality in Thailand.

 

I like J.K. Rowling. She is an inspiration for me. She was a single mom and she was desperate when she wrote Harry Potter. She inspires me very much for women because she did a lot for her child and herself without the help of the guy.

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