Bangkok Post » Post Blogs
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Women's plight in men's war
Having lost her husband in the southern
violence and forced to struggle for her son's freedom from detention in
the Tak Bai crackdown, Yaena Salaemae has only one wish for
International Women's Day.
"It is peace," says the widow. "I just want peace back."
Women suffer when their husbands are shot, killed, or detained. "The
responsibilities are suddenly on our shoulders to provide for the
children, and to fight for justice for our husbands and sons.
"It is hard. But we must endure. All we want is peace so our
children can live a normal life _ as we once did before the violence
Indeed. How can Yaena and her sisters in the restive South dwell on
such bigger goals as gender justice, equal opportunities, or the end of
gender-based violence, when they cannot even have safety in their daily
Continuing unabated into its eighth year, the southern turbulence
has claimed more than 5,200 lives and injured nearly 9,000 people. More
than 4,200 of the dead were civilians. The violence has also produced
nearly 3,000 widows and 4,500 orphans.
It is not only the widows who must bear the brunt. More than 7,600
villagers have been arrested and detained as suspected insurgents.
Their wives, mothers, and children suffer.
The police have been able to file security charges in only one out
of every five arrests. Despite the hardship the victims and their
families must go through _ from false allegations, to the authorities'
refusal to give up the practice of netting suspects without sufficient
Meanwhile, more than 500 defendants are wilting in jail because they
have no bail money. Again, their wives, children, and mothers suffer in
And as the insurgents have opted for indiscriminate attacks and
bombings, the number of women as direct victims is also increasing,
says peace activist and Muslim academic, Soraya Jamjuree.
More than 300 women have been killed in the southern violence, she
says. But the number of female casualties will rise manifold if we
include the casualties from maternal mortality.
Compared to other regions, health services in the deep South are
already much poorer. But the protracted violence has made things worse.
Due to limited outreach services, shortage of health personnel from
lack of safety, and the pregnant women's poor health from war stress
and malnutrition, the maternal mortality rate in the deep South has
doubled since the violence erupted on Jan 4, 2004. The mother's poor
health leads to much lower birth weight of the newborn, and much higher
infant mortality. According to the Public Health Ministry, infant
mortality in the deep South is 30% higher than in other regions.
We would not be wrong to say that women and children are the biggest casualties of the southern violence.
It is surely equally painful for mothers to watch their children
trapped in a living death as drug addicts. Go into any village in the
deep South and you will be struck by the large numbers of idle male
teenagers and young men. They cannot be fishermen like their fathers
because the seas have been depleted by trawlers. Decent jobs and social
mobility are limited by political centralisation. The insurgency puts
the final nail in the coffin.
Frustration runs high. Many turn to drugs. "It is the most severe problem in our communities," says Soraya.
The presence of soldiers in local communities has also brought
another problem common in war situations _ sexual violence. The recent
video clip scandal of a rape in Pattani is just the tip of the iceberg.
"Many families have chosen to remain silent to protect the reputation
of their girls," says Soraya.
Even when the relationship is sincere, families are almost always
unhappy with cross-cultural marriages. So are the local boys. Some take
the matter into their own hands and the result is violence.
Soraya and Yaena refuse to give in to the men's war by connecting
the victims with legal help, work opportunities and support for their
families. "The violence must stop from both sides," pleads Soraya. "Men
must start talking. It is the only way we women and children can have
our normal lives back."