Bangkok, October 26, 1999 -- The Asian economic crisis has made Thailand rethink its previous development model to one that focuses more on basic rights of people as well as gender equality, the top-ranking Thai woman Minister said yesterday.
"The crisis has made us rethink of our development model. The traditional notions of "security" and "development" have to be changed," said Khunying Supatra Masdit, Minister to the Prime Minister's Office. "The concepts must focus on people -- how they live and exercise their choices. The people, women and men, must be equally provided with all the basic necessities of life, including their basic rights and freedom."
At the opening session of the High-level Inter-governmental Meeting to review the regional implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action in Bangkok yesterday, Masdit told the meeting that Thailand has made progress in promoting women's rights despite the economic crisis.
Panit Nitithanprapas, Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, added that the Thai Constitution of 1997 does not only include several provisions that reflect a substantive vision for gender equality by prohibiting discrimination. Gender equality is also guaranteed by making room for the promotion of the conditions needed to make legal equality real and effective.
"The past five years have seen a number of laws being amended to become less discriminatory, Ms. Panit said. "Some of the examples are the Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act, which took effect in 1996, and which decriminalised sex workers and imposes penalties on customers, agents and procurers as well as the Labour Protection Law enacted in 1998, that for the first time prohibits sexual harassment in work places."
Other strategies have also been introduced to deal with violence against women, Ms. Panit said. Training to make law enforcers more gender sensitive has been launched and a one-stop service for victims of violence has been established in a number of hospitals. Investigative procedures have also been reviewed and made women-friendly. Additionally, the Government has recently approved the designation of November as the month of campaigning on the elimination of violence against women.
"In the political sphere, some progress on women's participation has been noted," stated Ms. Panit. "Decentralisation of administrative power has resulted in increased proportion of women in local administration, from 1-2 percent prior to 1995 to about 10 percent at present. In addition, the Government's policy to eliminate job discrimination in 1995 has brought about equal access to government positions for women."
However, much more remains to be done especially after the economic crisis breaking out in Thailand since the middle of 1997 that has badly affected human development nation-wide as well as the potential development of women and children. Among the priorities of Thailand are transferring of knowledge on gender to the next generation, gender mainstreaming and the collection of sex-disaggregated data and information. There is also a need to develop a high gender awareness and develop skills at various levels in pursuance to the Constitution, so as to make women's rights a reality for all Thai women.
Thailand is among 60 countries presenting its report on reviewing the progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, at a High-level Inter-governmental Meeting in Bangkok which opened yesterday. It is sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
The meeting is to discuss progress in implementing the objectives of the Platform of Action. It will also consider and adopt its report on Friday, 29 October 1999. The report will be the input of the governments of the Asia and Pacific Region to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly "Women 2000: Gender equality, Development, and Peace for the 21st century." The meeting will be held in New York in June 2000 to review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action globally.
* The Isis-UNIFEM media team for the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting to Review the Beijing Platform for Action in Asia and the Pacific is composed of Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Lorna Israel, Isis International-Manila; Suchita Vemuri, Women's Features Service; Babita Basnet, Sancharika Samuha-Nepal ; Adelle Khan, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre; Ung Vanna, Khmer Women's Voice Centre; Lim Siu Ching, All Women's Action Society-Malaysia; Fatmawati Salapuddin, Bangsa Moro Women and Development Foundation-Philippines; Rina Jimenez-David, Philippines; Chitraporn Vanaspong, Thailand.