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Friday, January 16, 2009
Trapped in the pit of patriarchy
A plan for a co-ed prison. A protest victory for nurses to receive better pay and welfare. Despite the headline news on the fire disasters and the persistent political entanglements, the New Year still has some good news for those who want to see a better deal for women.
First, the co-ed prison.
According to director-general Natee Jitsawang of the Corrections Department, the Chaibadan Prison in Lopburi province will be the country's first co-ed prison where female inmates can finally share the prison's training and educational facilities with their male counterparts.
At present, he said, female inmates in the provinces are detained in a small area of the prisons and denied training and other services because the buildings where these activities take place are in the more spacious men's quarters.
At most prisons, the number of male inmates much outnumber the females. But in the pilot project at Chaibadan, the number of men and women inmates will be balanced out to ensure equal access to services. Although detained in separate quarters, they will be allowed to use the common spaces together during the day.
Amid a shortage of male guards, the Corrections Department will spearhead the use of female guards for night shifts. Before, they were exempted from this.
The co-ed prison, he said, will not only be in line with gender equality, it will also help relieve the inmates' tensions, improve behaviour and reduce homosexual activities.
Some women's groups have expressed scepticism over whether Thai prisons are ready for such an experiment and if they are equipped to tackle new problems that come with a co-ed facility. Yet it is undeniable that the women inmates will benefit from the much-needed occupational training and the more humane environment which will better prepare them for a return to normal life.
Next, the nurses.
If they feel they are slaves in the patriarchal medical profession, it is because they are precisely that.
A primarily female profession, the nurses' indoctrination of selfless service and quiet endurance reflects the patriarchal value in society that subjugates women.
In the medical profession, nurses are not only required to dutifully serve the physicians, who are mostly men, they are also kept down professionally and robbed of equal welfare benefits. Good women and good nurses, they are told, should not be demanding.
They have been buying this nonsense for far too long. Early this month, some 3,000 community nurses gathered at the Public Health Ministry to demand work security, career advancement and equal welfare benefits.
Among their demands: Employ the 6,000 community nurses who have long been slaving full time so they can receive work and welfare benefits instead of continuing to be exploited as non-regulars. Give the nurses the same rate of overtime and hardship post compensation long enjoyed by the doctors, pharmacists and dentists at community hospitals. And lastly, give nurses professional advancement.
Nurses are the major force which drives the primary health care engine across the country. Given the shortage of physicians and the nurses' extensive field experience, ever wonder why they have not received any professional support to do more primary health care work as well as to screen patients for medical specialists? Ever wonder why nurses are kept at the lowest rung of health personnel with little work prospects?
The nurses' recent protest is not their first. Three years ago, the Public Health Ministry promised to help the nurses who toil without formal employment. This time, they also received another promise.
The nurses must think more seriously about why they are often lied to. They must also find out what really keeps nurses down in the public health system? Just the usual bureaucratic glitches? Or is it the deep-rooted patriarchy which keeps physicians at the apex of power without being challenged?
If not, their protests will continue to be responded to with endless lies.