In Thailand like in other countries, gender issues have been an important and integral part of contemporary discourse. They typically concern the existing inequality between men and women. It is women that are most likely to be treated unfairly by men, which results in women’s deprivation of rights, opportunities, or privileges that are equal to those of men.
In term of gender equality, Thailand is better off than many developing countries. According to The Global Gender Gap Report 2012, Thailand ranked 65th, just behind Ukraine and just ahead of Vietnam and Romania, with the score of 0.6831. From this report it appears that Thailand needs to improve gender equality in the following areas: economic participation, opportunities, and political empowerment of women. Unfortunately, Thailand is just one example of a country where gender inequality still persists and remains a huge barrier to women’s achievements. This social phenomenon is embedded in many modern societies and it is hard to eliminate it from the established mindset.
Identification and understanding of gender issues in one’s own culture is crucial. This paper examines three gender issues in Thailand with the focus on challenges faced by Thai women today. In the paper the situation, the root cause, and the solution to each issue will be described in relation to the following issues:
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- Issue #1: Women and the leadership gap
- Issue #2: Problem with Prostitution
- Issue #3: Legal Rights of Transgenders
Women and the Leadership Gap
Similarly to the position of women in many other countries, women in Thailand are underrepresented in leadership positions. Historically, Thai women were among the first in Southeast Asia to be granted the right to vote back in 1932. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2012, Thailand ranked 93rd with the score of 0.090, in terms of political empowerment. From this report it appears that the number of women holding political office remains very low. Even though, there are no legal restrictions on women’s political participation, their participation in the politics, especially in decision-making and policy-making processes remains low because public representation is generally perceived to be a masculine domain.
Today, Thai women have equal access to higher education more than ever before. Remarkably, there are more women than men that graduate from universities. Also, many Thai women have proved that they are capable of working in politics like most men. As we know Thailand had its first female Prime Minister in 2011. As a result, Thailand has improved in terms of women acceptance to the parliament. Still, women appear to have fewer opportunities than men to enter the politics in Thailand.
Apart from politics, women are underrepresented in business leadership. The low level of women’s participation in business leadership is attributed to “the higher management and executive levels […] occupied by men.” Similarly to politics, it is hard for women to seek leadership positions in business careers. Typically, people believe women lack leadership skills and thus are unable to work on executive level. Yet, it is mostly men that speak of women as lacking the qualities for leadership. This actually creates barriers to making women confident about their work in leadership environment.
Overall, the level of participation of women in leadership positions in both politics and business is low in Thailand because of typical social constructs. Most people still perceive women asincapable of working at the executive level or in parliament. Hence, women almost always lack support from communities . There are no clear solutions that can be easily applied to resolve this issue except for women need to stand up for themselves and raise their voices to gain equal rights. On the other hand, Thai communities and especially government should help promote women empowerment so that women can enjoy the same rights and the same status as men do. The success would benefit not only Thai women but the society in general.
Problem with Prostitution
When we talk about women status and gender issues in Thailand it is hard not to talk about prostitution. Sadly, Thailand has an international reputation as a sex tourist destination even though there are countries with bigger numbers of prostitutes than in Thailand. Many young women enter prostitution as a way to escape poverty. Most of these women are of poor family background and lack education. However, there have been cases when parents sold their daughters even though they knew that their daughters would end up working as prostitutes. Some women voluntarily enter prostitution to earn for their living. In addition, several recent reports identify a rising trend of Thai students using social networking websites for prostitution. Ironically, “[T]he recent survey […] revealed that most young people in the sex trade were not poor, but [they] just wanted money to buy things.”
While many people think of Thailand as a destination for sex tourists, it is a myth that only foreigners visit Thai prostitutes. As a matter of fact, most customers are Thai men. Young Thai men often think that is natural to go to brothels with their friends.
As we can see prostitution is widely accepted and tolerated in Thai society. Its success became evident at the time of the Vietnam War when the services of Thai prostitutes were used by westerners. Thailand provided “ rest and recreation” services to American soldiers during the war. Since then, a dramatic increase in the use of Thai prostitutes by foreigners has been fixed in the country. Today, that the number of prostitutes in Thailand is known to be from half a million to a million by recent estimates .
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but due to the lack enforcement on the part of the local government the sex industry continues to thrive. Thai police are unable to restrict or eradicate it. Bribery between owners of brothels and the local police is quite common. On the other hand, Thai government does not make enough efforts to reduce the level of prostitution through legal restrictions. Today, prostitution is practiced openly throughout the country and brings significant profit to its economy .
Overall, the demand factors are deeply rooted in culture attitudes, economic interests, and legal policies that support the prostitution industry. To get rid of the prostitution in Thailand will be a challenge to Thai authorities, which will affect Thai economy as well. Yet, we should not forget that by getting rid of prostitution we will help many women get away from it . As one can see, men view and treat women as products or sex objects for entertainment and enjoyment. Yet, it is unfair in relation to women. The solution to this problem is to let Thai government establish the policy and ‘strictly’ enforce it in order to get rid of thriving prostitution. In addition, Thai government should provide education to children in rural areas and provide jobs for those women who need them. By getting rid of prostitution, Thais will also be able to successfully build a new image of Thailand. This will result in a changed attitude toThai women in the international community.
Legal Rights of Transgender people
Thailand has been recognized globally as the country that accepts “transgender” people or Thais called “kathoey”. The term kathoey refers only to a male-to- female transgender person. An increasing number of people come from all over the world come to Thailand to have a sex reassignment surgery (SRS). The cost of the operation is low and such operations are deemed reliable. Thai people culturally accept transgender people. Transgender people have many opportunities to do the same things as people normally do. For example, some beauty pageants communities have organized the pageants for transgender people to compete with other transgender people from around the world. Transgender people in Thailand get recognition as TV and movie stars, singers, and even flight attendances. Recently, the Thai airline has hired a transgender flight attendance. As we see, transgender population is widely accepted and tolerated by Thai society. However, the issue is transgender population does not have the equality of legal rights with the rest of Thai population.
In the past, transgender and homosexual people were subject to discrimination. People considered them to have a mental disorder, and they were discharged from the armed service for this very reason. As a result, the stigma of the mental disorder caused unemployment among the queer population because most employers did not want to hire people who had a mental disorder.. In 2002, the Department of Mental Health removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Another issue is Thai law does not strictly protect the transgender people. For example, under Thai law, it is illegal to rape a woman but not a transgender person, which it is unfair. The government should provide equal rights to this minority as well and protect them from harm.
Today, the transgender people are “not officially recognized as women by the Thai government, even after they have had gender reassignment surgery.” Thai government does not allow the transgender people to change their gender status on the Thai National Card or in Thai passport because they believe that this will lead to numerous problems.
However, today many countries, such as the United States, recognize the change in gender. For instance, under the U.S. law transgender people are permitted to change their gender status on passports. Many people feel that having immigration documents, IDs, and passports that do not match one’s gender identity and appearance can be stressful. The law that will allow the legal change in gender status will reduce discrimination and harassment against transgender people. Therefore, Thai government should allow the transgender people to change gender status on their IDs and passports so they can enjoy the same rights and legal benefits as other people.
Gender issues are present in every part of Thai society. Such gender issues as low participation of women in political and business leadership, thriving prostitution, and violation of transgender rights will not be solved easily because people tend to perceive them as a norm. Women are not supposed to hold positions on executive level because the latter is associated with men profession. Another issue is prostitution is widely supported by local Thai men and foreigners alike. Unfortunately, Thai government does not provide the same rights to protect transgender people, which is unfair. The only way to help improve gender inequality in Thailand is to urge Thai government to implement legal changes. To do this, people should work together so that to the society eventually gets rid of the disappointing social phenomena.
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