Being an everyday woman
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Being an everyday woman

It's hard being a woman. We live in constant fear: fear of harassment, stalking, violence, abuse, assault, and even murder.

Recently I saw a viral video of Khawisara "Myyu" Singplod, a 20-year-old Thai idol from the girl group BNK48, tearfully relating how she was stalked at an Airport Rail Link station on Dec 9.

"I'm being stalked by two men … could you stand with me until the train arrived, please?" she recalls asking a female security guard on the platform. The guard simply shrugged and said, "No, I've finished my shift". Myyu insisted she really felt unsafe, yet the answer was the same.

"I was shocked … so disappointed and sad," she paused then continued. "It's Thailand. … I'm sad and terrified (because) nobody can help me." Luckily a female high school student heard what she said and decided to take the train with her, got off at the same station, and waited until her taxi driver came.

The day before, after a Chinese woman was kidnapped from the Phrom Pong area, a rumour circulated in social media that foreign women were being abducted from Sukhumvit sois 31, 39 and 49, possibly while waiting for rides. Coconuts Bangkok reported that police were aware only of the incident involving the Chinese woman and had opened an investigation.

I know that the rumour could be misinformation, but I also believe that all women know it's possible that we could be kidnapped in broad daylight without anyone noticing.

Every mother knows what could happen whenever their daughters leave home. "Don't wear a short skirt, go change", "Don't come home late" are catchphrases many girls are used to hearing.

It gets worse at night, as we keep looking back to see if we are being followed on poorly lit streets which are common in many areas of Bangkok.

For many urban women, no handbag is complete these days without pepper spray, a safety whistle, or even a portable door jammer.

We are also busy sharing tips online -- to be alert to someone putting drugs into our drinks, how to detect hidden cameras in a changing room or public restroom, what to do when someone grabs your body on the subway, how to react to sexist or inappropriate jokes from harassers who might be your seniors.

There are even TikTok videos in which women can role-play as if they are on the phone in case they are alone in public transport, for example, a taxi.

A survey in 2018 by Safe Cities For Women, a non-profit organisation, showed that 35% of 1,654 transit users which included men, women and LGBTQ people, had experienced some form of sexual harassment while using public transport.

This can range from obscene language and sexual comments, to leering at shirt collars or under skirts, groping and inappropriate touching, which during my high school years, I also experienced.

About half of respondents reported encountering sexual harassment on buses. Other incidents occurred on motorbike taxis (11.4%), taxis (10.9%), vans (9.8%) and the BTS (9.6%).

A World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2018 estimated that some 30,000 cases of sexual assault and physical abuse are reported every day. Many more, of course, go unreported. The age of the victims ranges from five to 90 years with 60% of victims children and teenagers aged 5 to 20 years.

For most women, even home is not a safe place as they face abuse by partners and family members. Recent data showed that domestic violence in Thailand had increased by 66% during the pandemic. News about gender-based violence is pervasive in media outlets.

Data collected from 10 Thai newspapers by the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, shows there were 350 news reports related to reported domestic violence between January and June this year.

Domestic violence in the first half of 2020 increased by 50% from the same period in 2016 and by 12% from 2018.

Keep in mind that any number you read on this subject is probably much lower than the real figure, given the fear and shame associated with coming forward in many cultures. As many as 87% of sexual harassment cases are never reported, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Harassment and violence against women are universal. It's happening every day in every corner in the world. That's why when I watched Myyu crying, I broke into tears because I, too, can feel her pain.

It shouldn't be this hard just being a woman. It's our right, for every woman, to live free from any harassment and violence.

Pattama Kuentak

Asia Focus reporter

Asia Focus reporter

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