Bangkok Post » Post Blogs
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Gender blindness in election policies
A commodity prices guarantee. A farm chemicals
subsidy. Flood insurance. Credit cards for farmers. Financial aid for
first-home owners. Debt refinancing. Five years' income tax exemption
for first jobbers. An increase in the monthly support for the elderly
from 500 to 1,000 baht...
The list goes on and on as political parties are noisily competing to
offer all sorts of goodies to the voters. Of course, it all boils down
to policy handouts to buy votes.
Yet even if we choose to ignore this fact, the voters who will benefit are still men more than women.
It is because even though Thai women are fully participating in the
economy, they still face legal and cultural constraints that prevent
them from equally benefiting from state policies and services, handouts
For example, many benefits make it clear that only household heads need apply.
Household heads mean men - if not blatantly spelled out in the
regulations, then in practice. When women apply, they are made to go
through dizzying paperwork, and are often rejected.
This gender inequality question was recently raised by a network of
women's rights groups and activists called WREST, which stands for Women
Reshaping Thailand, to monitor election policies.
The same question is not only limited to policy giveaways. It also
applies to such efforts such as land for the landless and access to
low-interest credit for farmers to address structural inequality.
It will be scandalous if women farmers are bypassed by these policies
because there are more women in the agricultural sector. They are also
According to the Community Development Department, of the 31.8
million people in the farm sector in 2009, there are about 200,000 women
more than men.
Of the 8.5 million households in the farm sector, 31% of household
heads are women, and steadily increasing. Female household heads also
have less income than their male counterparts.
According to the National Statistics Office in 2009, there is a
higher number of women among workers with primary education. Meanwhile,
there are more men than women among the employees with a middle-range
income. Interestingly, it is mostly women who are working for free for
It is the same with the minimum wage. While the Democrat and Pheu
Thai parties compete in upping each other with a higher figure, they are
both blind to the different conditions, needs and concerns of women
The problem is not only about lack of enforcement. Women have been
routinely paid less than men despite the minimum wage law, or despite
working in the exact same job. The new wage scale won't change that.
A big problem in a woman's life is the double workload from the
traditional burden as wife and natural calling as mother. The minimum
wage is calculated to support only one person, so it can never help
workers/mothers to better provide for their children.
The husbands? Much research has shown that the husband's money goes
largely on their social life. For the wives, it goes directly to feed
To help women workers, the policy must then go beyond the minimum
wage to improve social policy such as a nursery at the workplace, longer
paid maternity leave, a more egalitarian access to good education for
their children, and a more effective alimony system.
Thai society is also fast ageing, with more elderly women than men.
Since women live longer, and since they are expected to be care givers,
the burden of the grey society falls flatly on women. Yet, all political
parties are blind to this reality by focusing only on the monthly
allowance for the elderly, which makes little difference in their life.
It is clear. There is an urgent need for policy intervention to
bridge the gender gap in family and at work. The same goes for policies
to protect women from gender discrimination, sexual harassment and
It is also an uphill task. No matter what policy the government
dishes out, women will continue to be bypassed when policy-makers - and
society as a whole - remain gender blind.