Mae Sot, Thailand
“I think I can inspire other women to become independent”
I am originally from Northern Thailand, I have lived in Bangkok, in Chiang Mai, later I moved to work in the deep south of Thailand and then I moved to Mae Sot for work 7 months ago. I don’t have children and I’m not married yet.
When I was young, my family treated me and my brothers the same and I think for that I was lucky. My family was different because my mother was the leader and my father was quiet.
Before I moved here, I was working with a non-profit organization in the deep south of Thailand, in a Muslim area for about 8 months and then I moved here. Since it is a conflict area, we couldn’t go out at night, we just went out to work and then stayed home. Now that I have moved here I feel very comfortable, I can go outside, go out with friends, without any fear. I moved here because life was too hard in the South.
I work and I can take care of myself, but my mom sometimes tells me that it’s time for me to get married. But I always say no! My mom thinks that because I am a woman I shouldn’t stay alone; she is worried that no one will take care of me when I am older. She is concerned about me. She thinks that I need a man to take care of me but I tell her that it’s okay. I think I can inspire other women to become independent. My niece is in high school, she is going to university next year, she tells me that she doesn’t want to marry, she wants to study, work and travel all around the world. I think I inspired her! As for myself, I don’t want to have children, I have 5 nieces and nephews so I’m fine.
I work for the people, in the social development sector. When I studied at the university, I volunteered for the vulnerable people and when I completed my degree I worked straight away in the social development sector, it has been 17 years now and I have never changed my career.
“Sometimes they think it’s too hard to actually apply what they have learned in the gender training”
In the workplace, we shouldn’t present ourselves as a person with a gender but as professionals. What matters is our knowledge, our skills and our decisions, what matter are our abilities, not our gender.
In my experience, at work, people usually listen to women but they don’t let them do anything. Before I was here, I was working in the south, they were always saying “yes, yes” but then in the end they didn’t let us do anything. They either ignored us or fought our ideas because they thought women should only follow men’s command. Even though I work in the development sector, and trainings on gender equality are usually provided to the staff, things don’t change much. Sometimes people who participated in the trainings think it’s too hard to actually apply what they’ve learned.
But it’s not hopeless! It’s just that it will take time. We need to educate people, to raise awareness, but we also need to improve the situation by changing the policies. For a big transformation, the government needs to change the policies.
“There is a difference between what people say and what people do”
In Thailand, the inequalities between men and women are built on old traditions. Even if both genders are both human, traditions set them apart. Men and women are unequal because the traditions have divided the responsibilities: women belong in the kitchen and men are in charge of everything, they are the leaders. Those concepts, for instance, can be found in songs and poems, books for kids, etc., some that I even learned myself when I was young. It is not rare to see signs in some pagodas that say “men only”, it’s everywhere in Thailand, every place has this concept inside. And now with capitalism and consumerism, people are always using women, and women’s body, for marketing strategies and sales, and those initiatives are raising even more women’s issues.
In some communities and for the ones who are too poor, families will invest in their boys first. It depends on the context of course, but it is true for most cases. In the Muslim area where I worked, men can’t go out because the soldiers will always check them to find an excuse to arrest them, thus, women and girls are the ones who go outside, to shop at the market for example. It explains why in this area, victims of bomb attacks in markets are mainly girls and women.
I think people are not well aware about the concepts of gender equality. Sometimes people are aware but unaware, meaning that sometimes people will respect it and sometimes they will just forget about it. Maybe they know about it but they don’t put it into practice.
Many people in Thailand say that they respect women. For example when people call women “Mae”, which means mother, they say that it’s out of respect because they know that everything begins with mothers. They say this is how they show respect to women, and they say that this belief is in the Thai culture. But then there is a difference between what people say and what people do.
“We can’t change anything as long as we are under the military government”
I would love to see some changes happen. I always think that people of influence, like artists, should take a stand for gender equality. They could use their popularity to change people’s mindset. For example, there is this singer who cut her hair (Sinéad O’Connor), she is a singer but she is also an activist for women’s rights. Here in Thailand, we don’t really have any women’s rights activists, but it’s needed.
There are some TV reporters who try to raise the topic up, but now they can’t say much because the government will not allow it, they would get arrested. The government is using article 112 and article 44 to arrest people who are speaking out against the government or against the king. Since the coup occurred and since the military junta is ruling, there’s been many cases of people getting arrested, tried before the military court or simply disappearing, mostly activists, students, women’s NGO leaders, and some academics. Many, many cases… The army wants to control and silence them. We’re not allowed to criticize the government. This happens a lot.
Nowadays, Thai women have more knowledge, but we can’t change anything as long as we are under the military rule. As long as they wield power we can’t change the policy. The situation for women is only improving thanks to local initiatives, but nothing comes from the government.
We are under a government that leaves women behind. Our previous Prime Minister was a woman, so some people said that she got elected just because she was beautiful. Even women who were against her party were saying that she was only beautiful, not smart, and that she had less knowledge that other male candidates. So there were even women’s voices against our woman leader. In the media that’s also how they portray women in politics. When you are a famous woman, people will focus on issues like this, on your body, on your beauty, on your appearance but not on your political agenda or your professional skills to lead a country like they would do for men. That government was supporting women, they had set up a women’s development fund, funded by the government. Now it’s different because it’s the army who is ruling the country. They don’t think about gender, they think only that men should lead, it’s systematic. The coup took place 2 years ago already, now we have no hope of having democratic elections anymore.
I think this government will have a negative impact on the situation for women in the country. If we had gotten to select our own government, then some NGOs would have been able to work on changing the policy and the government would have more easily accepted their recommendations. But this government, they always reject recommendations. They were not elected by the people so they don’t want to work with them. Because the country is led by the military, and the army is the army, and soldiers are soldiers, gender issues are not their priority.
We don’t know when we will get to have democratic elections. This is Thailand! Elected governments never last long, it’s always the same. I remember, I have witnessed many coups. Every time a coup happens we think it will be the last time, but then it happens again, I don’t understand why. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to stay in this country.