My take, your take: Women’s rights in Thailand, and men’s role in advancing themIn this new intergenerational series for the Generation Equality campaign, young people take the lead to shape the conversations. Zaak Garrett, 25, a US student and gender activist currently based in Thailand, talks with Jaded Chouwilai, 57, the founder of Thailand’s Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation.
Zaak Garrett believes that the Beijing Platform for Action can improve the lives of all young women and men, worldwide. But he also sees that policies cannot create change unless they are implemented. He says that only when women have taken their seats at the table, in every sector and space in society, will we all benefit.
Garrett has co-founded a movement called #PolicyPlease, which advocates for anti-sexual harassment policy and education on campuses throughout the country. There is rampant violence against women on campus, he shares, including, “intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and assault and the culture of victim blaming, as well as lack of protection under the law for survivors.”
Garrett first saw Jaded Chouwilai speaking at an event “Housework is for everyone event” in November 2019 and agreed with his views: “It’s not that policy is not important; it is. But if people are not empowered and do not understand their rights and the issues at hand, the policy will ultimately be ineffective.”
When and why do you speak out for women’s rights?
Jaded Chouwilai: I was inspired by my mother from a very young age. She raised me and my two sisters without differentiating by gender norms. For instance, we all had to help equally with household chores. Once I went to university, my mother told me to treat all women with respect and never take advantage of them.
My activist path was shaped more clearly 30 years ago when I joined a university club that conducted a campaign for women rights. After I graduated, I was interested in becoming a social worker, and started to volunteer.
What has been the biggest change for women in Thailand since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted, and where are the gaps?
Jaded Chouwilai: Almost 100 grassroots women from Thailand participated in the conference, and after the Beijing Declaration we felt several significant changes in our country. The government provided funding and held campaigns on sexual harassment and violence against women across Thailand. Approximately 20 One-Stop Crisis Centres were established. Women investigators were appointed as contacts for women to file assault complaints. A new law was launched to protect women and children from being harassed. These are some of the changes that we could see clearly.
However, women n their 40s and above still struggle to understand their rights and what they can do to protect themselves. This makes it hard for them to tell their stories of harassment or abuse and access the protection that they deserve. The younger generation has a different perspective. They are more open about their issues and speaking out against sexual harassment and violence. They are more willing to claim their rights and promote a gender-equal society.
Social media is a double-edged sword in this space. Women and girls can learn about their rights, find their voice and platform. But social media platforms are also frequently used for harassment that can even lead to rape.
You are one of the few men who lead an organization working to support women. How do you see men’s attitude changing and what can men and boys do to help achieve a gender-equal world?
Jaded Chouwilai: In a poll we found that 60 per cent of men still think that household work is a job for women only. Men over 45 in particular believe that women need to be the ideal housewife at all times, and that their tasks consist of housework and childcare.
However, younger men think differently about housework. This might be in part because of the increasing number of boys growing up as only children, as Thailand’s birth rate has been falling. Children in these households do their share of the chores regardless of their gender.
For men and boys to achieve an equal world, they first need to realize that gender [inequality] is also their problem. Our organization makes the issue of gender tangible through the example of household chores. Changing their attitude to domestic work can be part of helping men change their other behaviours.
Our organization has helped one group of men reduce their alcohol consumption and increase their participation in household work. They understood how their alcohol had been contributing to abusive behaviours towards their partners. They also saw the huge responsibility that household chores entail, especially when they are also doing paid work outside the home.
This is a special editorial series for UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign. The intergenerational series connects youth activists with veteran women’s rights activists and explores inter-generational perspectives on today’s issues.