To fulfil her commitments at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, Thailand has progressively implemented the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The implementation has been followed up through the National Commission on Women's Affairs (NCWA), in cooperation with GOs and NGOs nation-wide, and with the support of international agencies and foreign governments. At the start, the Declaration and Platform was translated into Thai. The five regional seminars were organized to inform the public of the content of the Platform and to enlist support for its implementation. Relevant issues of concern from the Platform were also incorporated into the 5-year Women's Development Plan (1997-2001). The Women's Development Plan was later translated into English, with a copy submitted to the United Nations as an input for the review of the implementation of the Platform. In responding to the Platform's call for strengthening the national machinery for the advancement of women, the status of the Office of the National Commission on Women's Affairs (ONCWA) was upgraded from a division to a bureau in 1997. Bills for elevating it to a department is being tabled at the Parliament.
Thailand is now in the process of evaluating the BPFA as requested by the United Nations to be completed by the end of this April. An ad hoc committee was set up under the NCWA comprising representatives from GOs, NGOs and a regional organization - ESCAP - to compile data for an overall evaluation of the implementation of the Platform at the national level.
Overview of National Implementation of the Platform for Action
In implementing the 12 areas of concern from the Platform, Thailand has put special emphasis on the issues of gender equality, violence against women, the girl-child, human rights of women as well as trafficking in women and children.
However, proportionate attention has also been paid to other areas, except for that of the women in armed conflict which has been attached low priority as this is not considered a critical issue in Thailand's situation. Our work with respect to this issue was more of assistance in terms of shelters, educational and health services rendered to refugees , displaced people and asylum seekers, most of them women and children, on a humanitarian basis.
Hilltribe people in the north mountainous part of Thailand, whether they be of Thai nationality or not, also have access to health and education services. Hilltribe people can cross borders easily, thus create the problem related to documented and undocumented migrants. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is going to organize an international meeting on migration this month to consider measures to help alleviate the problems.
Gender equality was equality was clearly addressed in Thailand's current Constitution of 1997. Article 30 of the Constitution stated that men and women have equal rights; all discriminations based on race, sex, physical, economic or social status, religious beliefs, educational level of political thoughts which are opposed to the Constitution are definitely prohibited. Another section in this new Constitution which helps promote women's rights is the establishment of the National Commission on Human Rights as an independent body responsible for receiving complaints which are violation of human rights and monitoring the conformity with the international instruments on human rights. Now the National Policy and Master Plan of Action on Human Rights is being drafted, in which women's rights based on CEDAW were included. A seminar was just organized last month to give comments on the Draft.
Laws specifically addressed gender equality and other issues which put women in disadvantaged or discriminated-against situations as adressed in the BPFA and CEDAW have been or are being in the process of review or ammendment. Examples of the first category include:
- The new Labor Protection Law 1997, which for the first time stipulated gender equity in employment and the prohibition of sexual harassment, aiming at protecting female employees and children from being sexually harassed or exploited by an employer.
- The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act 1996, which decriminalized the commercial sex workers focused on the customers, especially of children under the age of 18, and individuals involved, such as brothel owners, pimps and mama sans, who will receive heavier penalties.
- The Measures in Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Women and Children Act 1997, which stipulated a punitive clause for those who conspired in the traffic of women and children as well as those who actually trafficked them. The exploitation inlcudes trafficking for indecent acts, illegal labor and sex trade. And there are provisions for assisting children and women who are victims of trafficking.
- The Penal Code Ammendment Act 1997, which improved the investigative and interrogative methods and procedures to become child and woman-friendly.
Examples in the second category include those laws on:
- The citizenship of an alien woman who marries a Thai man
- Marital rape
- The family law on betrothal and divorce, whereby a man can claim a compensation from any man who has sexual intercourse with his fiancee or can sue his wife or divorce if she commits adultery, without any corresponding rights provided for the woman.
- The draft Name Ammendment Act, which will allow the freedom to use the family name.
Apart from legal measures, national policies and plans to address prioritized issues in the BPFA have also been adopted or in process of formulation. Those already adopted are the National Policy and Plan of Action on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Exploitation of Children and Women 1996 and the Policies and Plans for the Development of the Family. Others in process are the National Policies on Human Rights and on Violence Against Women.
The National Plan of Action for Trafficking of Women and Children to deal with illegal women and children migrants who are trafficked into Thailand is also being considered. Manuals for treating these women and children as victims are being worked out among agencies concerned, such as the National Police Office, Immigration Department, Department of Publci Welfare, the NGOs and the NCWA. Plans have been made for bilateral negotiations between the countries between the countries in the Mekong sub-region to come to an agreement on how to prevent, protect, repatriate and reintegrate these women and children who must be treated as victims to foster cooperation between and among countries and to arrest those involved.
Sex tourism has been addressed using several measures. Among them is the distribution on pamphlets warning tourists that having sex with children is a crime. The government is also working on the revision of law on entertaining places, hoping that problems related to exploitative commercial sex can be alleviated.
In dealing with domestic violence and violence against women and children and sexual abuses, pamphlets have been produced and distributed to create awareness among the public and to inform them where they can get help. The NCWA has worked closely with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to have one-stop service for victims of violence in its six hospitals. The health workers, the social workers, and the community development personnel will form networks with medical personnel and women.
A National Policy and Plan of Action to eradicate violence against women and children being developed involves the NGOs, other government agencies and a multi-disciplinary team. Training has also been carried out for policies and law enforcement officers to provide knowledge and understanding on women's and children's rights and how to handle cases related to sexual and violence crimes against women and children in trafficking. It is hoped that these officials will then become more gender sensitive in dealing with those cases. The mass media is requested to disseminate information to help create public awareness.
Scholarships have also been offered to students, especially the girls at risk in the North and Northeastern provinces to enable them to further study as an alternative to entering sex business to earn income. These scholarships are provided by the governments. foreign aid programs, private sectors , GOs, loans, etc.
Apart for the above-mentioned priority issues, implementation in other areas of concern can be broadly viewed:
According ot the new Constitution, basic education will be extended from 9 years to 12 years to be offered free-of-charge by the State. Presently, sex education is also included in the curriculum.
Women and the Economy
In the public sector, men and women get equal pay for equal work. In the private sector, most companies practice equal opportunity employment. With regard to pregnancy and maternity leave, the new labor law stipulates in Article 42 that employers are prohibited from terminating employment of female employees on the basis of pregnancy.
The regulation on maternity leave is 90 days both in the public and private sectors. If needed, an additional 150 days without pay is allowed.
Child labor is one of the crucial concerns for Thailand. Preventive measures with the help of international agencies (IPEC and UNICEF) and NGOs are through educational prorams which have been implemented together with skills development schemes to improve the potentials of children who are already in the workforce. The new labot law has provided these children with better protection against exploitation. The legal employment age has been raised from 13 to 15 years.
Women in Power and Decision-Making
Among reasons why there are fewer women participating in various professional areas especially at the decision-making level are: a) women themselves usually enter into traditional careers; b) gender discrimination exists both de jure and de facto; c) family obligations.
However, in Thailand, many discriminatory practices have been changed, such as those in the public sector whereby now women can become governors, generals in the armed force, district officers and so on. For preparing women in politics, an NGO (the Women and Politics Institute) has organized many training courses to assist women for better understanding of the political process and entering politics at the local and national levels.
Health and Environment
With respect to health, abortion is still a debatable issue in Thai society. However, effective family programs will prevent unwanted pregnancy, which in a way is a preventive measure for abortion.
Regarding HIV/AIDS, the Ministry of Public Health has indicated that females make up about 20% of the total number of those who have contacted HIV/AIDS. At present, campaigns have been targeted to wives who have HIV/AIDS in women, and the coping mechanism and skills through proper counselling programs.
Projects for occupational health and safety of women workers, health and environmental campaigns for factory owners, as well as safety of women in agricultural sectors on technology transfer to enhance their awareness in pesticide use, toxic food and water, and pollution in the environment have been carried. A national workshop of women's networkin environmental development to promote women's roles in the protection and management of water resources was also conducted.
Stereotypes and Media
Stereotyping of women and men still exist in Thai society. The NCWA has undertaken a research project to evaluate the stereotypes in textbooks and supplementary books used in elementary schools. Research would continue for other levels and types of education. The Ministry of Education is revising its textbooks accordingly.
The mass media in Thailand usually portray girls and women in stereotyped manners. But few changes have been detected. Gender-oriented television and radio programs as well as talkshows are helping to eliminate some stereotyped attitudes towards negative opinions about women. Research was also conducted on "The Use of Mass Media as a Tool for Promoting the Advancement of Women" with the findings disseminated to students and professionals in the mass media and to women's organizations. A seminar on the topic of Women and Mass Media was organized. The NCWA has also proposed in the National Plan for the Development of Mass Media, Information Technology and Communication to include gender-sensitive elements and cultural values.
Current Challenges Facing the Region
Economic and financial crisis is facing Thailand and the region. Many industries have been closed down and men and women workers and employees have been massively laid off. Normally, women workers are the first to be laid off, thus increasing feminization of poverty. Amidst decreased budgets, more investments should be put on training, retraining and upgrading skills of women workers to aid the situation. Skills development programs to equip them to be able to find jobs or start entrepreneural work including technical skills and management, industrial technology, and technical development are needed. Loans at national and international levels provided for income generating activities are also necessary. As being generally said, the crisis must be turned into an opportunity. Strengthening gender impact analysis of the crisis on women and men, sex-disaggregated data collection and gender mainstreaming, should be an excellent opportunity provided for by the crisis.
With the borderless era of information, national information systems, especially the national women's information system needs to be improved to better influence gender-sensitive policy formulation and planning process and to keep pace with advanced information technology. The system should also be easily accessible to women to increase their access and participation in and contribution to economic and social opportunities.
However, a form of advanced information technology - the Internet - while easing and economizing the global network of communications, has an adverse effect especially in being a source of pornography and global network of commercial sex.
Previously Thailand's Penal Code has not addressed the problem of child pornography. The proposed ammendment has been made with regard to penalties for production and possession of all forms of pornographic materials involving children.
Changing Family Structure
A majority of countries in the region traditionally practiced an extended family structure and conservative sexual practices. Now cohabitation without marriage between the two sexes or the same sex are common. This has, in a way, a social effect, that is, women are out in a vulnerable and disadvantaged situation, especially in the case of a couple living together without marriage registration.
Persisting Economic Crisis
The persisting economic crisis greatly impacts the promotion of the advancement of women in the region due to resource constraints. In this situation, international and regional cooperation is vital for sustainable development of the advancement of women the region. The international community has a vital role to play in joining hands in the mobilization of efforts and resources to overcome the crisis.
A Gender Equal Society
To meet the goals of equality, development and peace in the year 2000 is, among others, to achieve a Gender Equal Society by the year 2000 and beyond. The efforts are to some extent being deterred by the economic crisis. However, considerable concrete efforts and measures to achieve gender equality in various areas have been accomplished at various levels in different countries through the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies and the BPFA. This can ensure the commitment to create a Gender Equal Society at the national and regional levels, and the global level at large.