By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
IN EVERY SOCIETY, it takes courage to break silence and no more so than when the issue involves domestic violence, a plight suffered by women all over the world.
The figures speak for themselves: A study of violence against women in Thailand back in 2013 revealed that the number of violent attacks on women had risen to 87 cases a day, with 83 per cent of them committed by close relatives such as a spouse or family member. The latest information gathered by the Friends of Women Foundation shows that violence against Thai women is still common and has seen no significant decline. And if the violence itself weren’t enough, these problems are often hidden away in a society sadly lacking in real solutions and treatment.
On Monday, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and its partners around the world launched the “16 Days of Activism Against GenderBased Violence”.
The campaign, which continues through December 10, uses the colour orange to represent power, hope, and the fight against sexual violence, and comes on the heels of global movements and grassroots campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Balance- TonPorc, #NiUnaMenos, #MeToo- India and “HollaBack!”
In Thailand, the theme is “Orange the World: #HearMeToo” and will encourages individuals, regardless of gender, communities, survivors and activists to speak their minds on women’s rights through a series of social engagement activities on the UN Women website and social media.
The global movement known as #MeToo became known around the world back in October 2017 but it saw the light several years earlier. The hashtag emphasising women’s rights and gender equality first appeared on the Myspace account of Tarana Burke, an AfricanAmerican civil rights activist in 2006. Burke used the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness about the survivors of the traumatic experience, condemning sexual assault and sexual harassment of ethnic minority women in the United States. Since then, her courage has inspired millions of women to speak up and tell their stories, particularly as they relate to equal rights and gender equality.
In the interim, though, different types of violence towards women continued to spread. In 2017, Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano popularised the Me Too movement by putting #MeToo on her Twitter feed to raise awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment across the world. That simple tweet provoked millions of women and celebrities to speak out about their own experiences, among them Lady Gaga and Evan Rachel Wood, all of them using the hash tag on social media.
To continue the momentum by partnering with companies under WPP Marketing Communications operating worldwide, UN Women is now joining forces with Thailand’s top advertising and public relations agencies including J Walter Thompson Bangkok, Mirum Thailand, Verve Public Relations Consultancy, Group M Thailand and Influos to drive the message home.
The campaign’s ultimate objectives are to tactfully uphold equal rights for all and to systematically stop violent deeds against all women. Four categories of violence – sexual, physical, emotional and economic – are prevalent in Thai society.
Areewan Jutathong, a lawyer and a women’s rights advocate for more than 20 years, and herself a one-time victim, says that one of the biggest problems in Thailand is the attitude that sees the victim rather than the perpetrator blamed. That is often enough to stop a woman from speaking out and even when she does, the justice system will force her to repeat what happened again and again. Of the 20,000 cases reported, only 3,000 cases get into the justice system and of these, a mere 200 end in a conviction, as the law allows for domestic or sexual violence cases to be settled out of court.
“Although, the legal system is much better now than it was 20 years ago, the big picture is still only being addressed by policy makers, and most of them are men. I’d like to see more women in politics and, perhaps more importantly, every family teaching young boys and girls to care and honour each other, as many studies show that men who hurt women have experienced or seen sexual violence as a child,” she says.
Thararat Panya, a law student from Thammasat University, used social media to share her case – sexual harassment by a senior student in the university. She says it took her months to decide if she should post what had happened to her without hiding her real name.
“Social media is effective and easy because it goes viral very fast. It reaches out many people and to various groups. Some people admire me, some praise my courage, some consult me, some feminists say I was inspiring, but many berate me. I’d like to see more networks and support through every channel,” she says.
This year, like on previous occasions, iconic buildings and monuments around the world are being “oranged” to call for a violence-free future including in Myanmar where Yangon City Hall, a central landmark, has been dressed in orange to bring attention to the issue both at home and elsewhere. Several European cities “oranged” their public buildings to mark the Orange the World: #HearMeToo campaign, including Rome, Vienna, and Liechtenstein. The City Hall of Paris was illuminated in orange two days ahead of the campaign launch while in Sweden the Stockholm Globe Arena was bathed in orange light.
A previously declared unsafe path in the Pristina City Park in Pristina, Kosovo went orange for the occasion. Colombia organised a public concert and lit public buildings in orange calling for women’s rights to live a life free of violence. In Rwanda, more than 1,000 people marched to the National Monument to mark the 16 Days of Activism campaign.
Nearer home, the banks of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem lake played host to the global event “Dance for Kindness” with the participation of 5,000 dancers.
And Thailand? Sadly the authorities here didn’t deem it necessary to colour anything orange. Next year perhaps?
CAMPAIGNING FOR JUSTICE
To raise awareness of the current situation and encourage actions, several activities are being organised throughout the 16 days of the event.
- Orange Lipstick Campaign: women are encouraged to use orange lipstick and post their pictures on social media with the hashtag #hearmetoo. Each picture represents the courage to talk about their nightmares and highlight their strength to be their true selves, leading to an end in violence towards Thai women.
n Disruptive News Headlines: UN Women and local portal website MThai are urging public participation in changing negative news headlines on UN Women’s website about sexual violence to a positive one, whilst sharing it on social media to adjust the social perception of a woman being seen as a victim to a courageous survivor and demand justice and equality in society.
- Immersive 360-Degree Experience: Watch 360-degree experience simulations of violent events that illustrate the severity of this issue on www.hearmetoo.or.th and read additional information and advice on violence against women.
- Short Film: The story of Areewan “Auan” Jatuthong, former runner-up in the Miss Thailand pageant is being told at www.hearmetoo.or.th to inspire Thai women to speak up for their rights.
- Podcasts: Listen to reflections on violence as voiced by Thararat “Noon” Panya”, a law student from Thammasat University. Nantiya “Fon” Poomsuwan, a representative of Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation and Wannachok Yimyong, Customers’ Relations Manager, J. Walter Thompson Bangkok on www.HearMetToo.or.th.
- Women needing help can call hotline 1300 in al confidentiality.