Gender equality still falls short
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Gender equality still falls short

As the world prepares to commemorate International Women's Day on Friday, the recent tragedy involving the disappearance and murder of 27-year-old Chonlada "Noon" Muthuwong has cast a stark light on the persistent violence against women in Thailand.

Her spouse, Sirichai Rakthong, 33, was seen on CCTV repeatedly kicking her in the street and striking her head with a rock before pulling her back into his car. He set her body ablaze in a rough field near Prachin Buri. Their toddler, who was one year old, was with them from the moment she was beaten until the body was set on fire.

Nong Noon's tragedy is not just an isolated incident; it symbolises the pervasive domestic violence faced by women across the country.

Domestic violence is deeply entrenched in patriarchal Thai society. Studies reveal that one in six women in relationships has experienced various forms of violence, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Nong Noon's tragic case serves as a grim reminder of the dangers women face within their own homes, where they should feel safest.

Furthermore, sexual harassment and rape are still commonplace. Accurate statistics are hard to obtain due to fear of social stigma and painful court procedures. But the 2017 figures from the Royal Thai Police's Command and Control Operation Centre were indicative.

According to police figures, the reported crimes of sexual violence are nearly four times higher than murder and robbery. In a single year, there were over 15,000 suspects for sex-related offences. That was over 40 cases per day. But only 287 offenders, or less than 2%, were arrested.

Information from the Public Health Ministry monitoring 51 state hospitals in 2021 found 8,577 women who were attacked sought medical treatment. Most of the patients told doctors they were attacked at home.

In 2022, the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women received 6,745 cases of violence against women and girls. Most victims are minors aged 10–15. Among these cases, 444 were rapes.

Alarmingly, school rapes of underage girls are on the rise, with school administrators often protecting the perpetrators instead of the victims.

Despite efforts to address these violations, women still suffer in silence due to the prevailing culture of patriarchy and double sexual standards perpetuated by the education system, culture, Thai Buddhism and mass media.

While Thailand boasts a greater proportion of women in CEO roles at the top of the corporate ladder compared to the global average, they only represent a small number of women. The reality remains that women are overwhelmingly underrepresented in important decision-making bodies like the government, parliament, judiciary and administration, both at national and local levels.

According to UN Women, women account for only 23.9% of high-ranking civil servants although women outnumber men in the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, women account for only 16.2% of parliament, well below the global average of 24.9%, and only 10% in the Senate.

In 76 provinces, only two women are governors while women account only 8% of the Provincial Administration Organizations and 6% of Sub-district Administration Organizations.

This lack of representation perpetuates gender disparities and hinders progress towards achieving genuine equality. Cultural expectations of women as caregivers, spouses and mothers hinder their advancement, with women spending three times more time on unpaid caregiving and household chores than men.

The government's top-down policies and environmentally-destructive development projects further exacerbate women's hardship. For example, tree plantations, mining, dams and the top-down demarcation of national parks and special economic zones deprive women of land security, resulting in poverty, family breakdown and displacement.

Ethnic discrimination compounds the struggles of women from marginalised communities, such as ethnic minorities and migrant workers.

While hill tribe women suffer poverty and landlessness from draconian forest laws, their Muslim sisters in the Deep South continue to face state violence with no end in sight from national security policies.

Deep social stigma against women with unplanned pregnancies contributes to a lack of policy and welfare support for counselling, foster care and adoption. Consequently, nearly 1,000 women die each year from complications caused by incomplete abortions obtained through underground services.

The government's plans to deliver universal welfare support to children aged 0–6 and increase monthly stipends for the elderly and the disabled are laudable but insufficient.

As we commemorate International Women's Day, we must confront the root causes of gender-based violence and discrimination. Eliminating gender biases and challenging entrenched cultural norms is crucial for a society that values and empowers women.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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