By The Nation
Pattani Campus (PSU) aims to create a space for youth to exercise - to play sport for health and wellbeing while building confidence and self worth.
The space is open to all religions, language groups, genders and physicality as conditions, and age as a place of equality, empowerment, and spiritual and physical healing.
BUKU Football Club in Pattani, the “Football for Peace and Equality” team, was born in August 2016 with the creation of a safe space for human rights education and a progressive book store. The team has a diverse membership of nearly 100 players who take it in turns to play and practice together in the evening. The youngest member is 7 years old and the most senior is 60, and everyone is able to unite to encourage each other and build the courage of the members.
For many women, this is the first time in their lives they have had the opportunity to play football. It began with some people having an interest in being volunteers, helping to take care of the athletes and coordinate the football team. BUKU is different from regular football teams in that it began with a vision of gender equlity.
In the three Southern border provinces, the majority of the population is Muslim and the stereotype in Thai society is an image of violence. The restrictions imposed by the ongoing conflict, along with Muslim beliefs, leave women with little or no room to express themselves. Yet this is rarely given consideration. When the BUKU team took to the Pattani football field people saw that some of the women who ran on the field were women wearing the hijab. The questions began: “Isn’t football is a men’s sport?”; “Is not the stadium a men’s domain?”; “Are these men and women challenging the doctrine of Islam?”; “Is that a Muslim women kicking a football?”; “Are women really going to kick the ball?”; “Kicking is not suitable behaviour for women!”
Students who are members of the team say: “Actually, this type of sport can be played by anyone. Men, women and different genders can join the game under the same rules.”
They are happy to get into the practice field to keep fit; belong to a team; gather together to have fun and have courage to do something new.
There is no expectation that they will win trophies in competitions.
At first, the some students were nervous and did not dare play. The three border provinces had never had women who played football before. The adults said that playing sport would “ruin your legs” and that “breasts bouncing up and down is not beautiful”. Later, the team began to attract the attention of wider society and the media began to follow the story. Some parents saw their daughters interviewed on TV and disapproved, banning them from playing in the team.
Today, the team continues to welcome new members and practice each week. They confirm the concept that all human beings can live together in the diversity without impinging on the value of each other. Every human being is a sentiment being with the right to make their own decisions and choose their way of life.
BUKU Football Club has opened up a space in society to recognise the overlapping problems in the Southern border provinces, regardless that the takes the form of women expressing themselves in a football stadium on issues of diverse sexual identities of Muslim people. The core concept is that every human being is born with a right to dignity and equality, and must not be discriminated against or be victimised by hate speech, hate crimes, or any other forms of violence.
Ms Nutchanart Thanthong
Chairperson of the Four-Region Slum Network
Nutchanart Thanthong is a women’s human rights defender fighting for housing and land rights for the poor, quality of life and equal access for all to a robust state welfare system,
Nutchanart has been a core member leading the fight for slum dwellers since 1990. When she was just 22, she and others experienced forcible eviction from the Klong Toei slum, as their rental contracts were expiring. With no warning, a notice was posted telling community members they had just three months to leave the area. Nutchanart knew this was unfair, so she mobilised community members to act and they went to meet the landowner. The door was slammed shut in their faces. They lost a subsequent court battle as they had no financial resources.
The incident led to the establishment of the Ruam Pattan Community Centre, a saving co-operative for the community to buy land and defend itself in court.
Now, Nutchanart is president of the Four-Region Slum Network, a community organisation made up of people affected by the forced removals by the government or private sector. The Four Region Slum Network’s main concern is the right to housing for the poor. The network tries to keep abreast of laws affecting housing and advocate against negative impacts.
Whether it be the government “reclaiming” land or moves by private developers, land distribution and land policy is unjust and biased against the poor. The network also monitors government spending and budgeting associated with land management. The network advocates strongly for aged pensions for all people who are 60 and over. It argues that the pension rate must be greater than subsistence level. Currently, the public pension is very small in comparison to the pension received by civil servants, which allows them to live well.
Nutchanart Thanthong and the Four Region Slum Network have reflected on the situation since the arrival of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO):
“The only power that the network has is the power of coming together to call for their rights. However after NCPO took over power this has become impossible because of the ban on political gatherings. Coming together to call for basic rights can be labelled a political rally. Before the NCPO orders, people of the 4 Slum Networks used to gather frequently, sometimes in support of other people’s struggles too, recognising that they shared the common issues of poverty and survival. However, now turning up in support of others is against the law, so each group must fight separately. “
In 2016, the 4 Slum Network, labour groups, student activists and others led by Nutchanart and other human rights defenders gathered at Ramkhamhaeng University to call for the release of students, activists and labour leaders who had been arrested for running a public education campaign on the new constitution, thereby breaching the Referendum Act. (June 23, 2016). Seven students were detained in the Bangkok Special Prison. Those who gathered called for the recognition that public education was not a crime; that people should have free access to information prior to voting on the Constitution; the government must respect the rights of the people, and withdraw the charges and release the seven students immediately.
During the gathering, senior police from Huay Maak came to clarify the points of the NCPO Order. Nutchanart was taken for an interview by police and released shortly after.
Most recently, on January 20, Ms Nutchan participated in the activities of the People Go Network to launch their “WE Walk –Friendship” event at Thammasat University Rangsit. Just days later, on January 23, along with seven other human rights defenders, Nutchanart was charged with breaching NCPO order No. 3/2558 which bans the gathering of more than five people for political purposes. The case continues.