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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Transparency call for new women's fund
Women's rights groups are watching closely the one-province-100-million-baht fund for women's development. And they should.
In her policy address, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
kept the women's fund promise she made to the National Council of Women
of Thailand, where her elder sister and a Pheu Thai supporter used to be
Ms Yingluck announced a women's fund of 100 million baht for each
province. That makes a total of 7.7 billion baht in taxpayers' money.
Who is going to manage it, and how?
Women's rights groups have been asking these questions right from the start.
If the village fund model is the way to go, each village will receive about 100,000 baht _ too little for any meaningful change.
If the fund lacks clear goals to tackle gender disparity,
discrimination and violence, there is a high possibility that the money
will be wasted on the already-too-many kinds of training _ such as
teaching housewives' groups to produce goods, without the markets to
support their products.
The question over fund allocation is also a political one.
If the fund management agency has close links with any political
party, it cannot escape criticism that it will become that party's
Let's not beat around the bush.
The fear is that the women's fund will end up mainly as the Pheu Thai Party's tool to strengthen its rural strongholds.
It is no secret that the premier's sister, Mrs Yaowaret, has close
ties with the National Women's Council of Thailand. During her
presidency back when her brother Thaksin was prime minister, Mrs
Yaowaret also attempted to get state funding for her organisation, which
would strengthen both its financial status as well as Thai Rak Thai
Party's links with the women's network.
That effort was put on hold with the dissolution of TRT.
Will Mrs Yaowaret's little sister help make her dream come true now?
A bill to manage the women's fund is now being drafted by a group of
leading members in the Women Lawyers Association and the National
Under the draft bill, which they hope to push through the Senate's
women's committee, the 7.7-billion-baht fund will be managed by a
national women's network organisation with representatives in every
province. Fund seekers must be registered members of this organisation.
Meanwhile, there is reportedly a concurrent move by the Prime
Minister's Office and the Office of Women's Affairs under the Ministry
of Social Development and Human Security, to set rules and regulations
governing the women's fund. Under this move, the prime minister would
reportedly preside over the fund committee, with the social development
and human security minister, and president of the National Women's
Council as deputies.
Personally, I think there is no need to fear policy being a political
tool. It should be. All political parties should compete to design the
best policy to win votes. My worry concerns the lack of transparency and
clear goals, the insufficient understanding about gender oppression,
and the obsession with red-tape and centralisation.
All this will lead to a money-burning spree amid scarce resources which could be put to better use elsewhere.
With the National Women's Council as lead agency in the fund
management, it is also feared that the money will go to
income-generating activities or charities, rather than on resolving
structural problems that keep women down.
But can the fund accommodate both urgent needs?
It is not that we do not have any examples on how to operate an
empowerment fund by an independent agency to meet the villagers'
immediate and long-term needs. The Social Investment Fund during the
1997 economic crisis is a case in point.
Collective, bottom-up projects from the villages were the rule.
Long-term or short-term goals were decided by the villagers themselves.
There were special project categories to help hard-to-reach groups.
Civil society groups were also actively involved in project monitoring.
The women's fund can do this, too, if it opens its decision-making
process to input from civic and grassroots groups. While the top-down
approach and secrecy still remain the order of the day, then fears that
the fund will serve only short-term political gains will continue.