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Thailand ranks as an Asian leader on gender parity, but we can do better

Mar 08. 2016
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AS the world celebrates International Women’s Day
Do Thai women have their presence felt in the social, economic, cultural and political landscape? 
At the Commerce Ministry, permanent secretary Chutima Bunyapraphasara has proudly ranked herself among the many women that have important posts in running the country’s commercial affairs. And the ministry’s six key departments are all led by female officials. 
In the private sector, several prominent executives are also female. Chadatip Chutrakul and Supaluck Umpujh together launched the highly successful Siam Paragon. Supaluck, also the vice president of The Mall Group, is now working on the mega EM  District project. Nualphan Lamsam has also stood out as a top executive of Muang Thai Insurance Plc. 
In various occupations, Thai women have been proving that they can work as well as men. 
Yaowalak Anuphan, director of the award-winning Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre , said: “Two decades ago, laws firms were reluctant to hire women. They felt women would have so many constraints about travelling to provinces and staying overnight for work. But there’s no such attitude anymore. There’s no sexual discrimination in the legal profession these days.” 
As the legal profession became more accepting of women, the number of female lawyers rose significantly, Yaowalak said. 
In Thailand’s political landscape, two members of the current Cabinet are female. They are Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang. 
Not many years ago, Yingluck Shinawatra also made history when she became Thailand’s first female prime minister. 
A familiar face for the protection of women and children in the Thai society is also a woman – Paveena Hongsakul. In so many high-profile legal cases, Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan is also a figure many people turn to for help in ensuring the reliability of forensic-test results. 
Thai gender parity, overall, appears significantly better than the world average. A global survey by Grant Thornton revealed that Thailand ranks among countries with the highest proportion of leadership roles held by women in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. 
Some 37 per cent of all senior management roles in this country are held by women. The two other states that ranked well were the Philippines (39 per cent) and Indonesia (36 per cent).
Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24 per cent, up slightly from 22 per cent last year. 
Still, Thailand should be able to do better. Russia, which has the highest number of women specifically in executive roles (45 per cent), show there is still room for improvement. 
Gender parity aside, I reckon that Thailand should try harder to advance women’s rights and protection. 
Yaowalak, who has worked on many sexual abuse and domestic violence cases, laments that the situation regarding such cases has hardly changed, as many victims keep silent. 
According to the Public Health Ministry, it is estimated one in five women are subject to rape or attempted rape at least once in their lives. 
While laws prescribe protection for women, there is probably not enough awareness of when people – men and women alike – should stand up to prevent an offence. 
In the United States, a big campaign is now underway with four main objectives: To recognise that non-consensual sex is sexual assault; to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur; to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given; and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
Soon after US Vice President Joe Biden went on stage at the Academy Awards and implored Oscar viewers to “take the pledge”, the campaign’s “It’s On Us” website went down due to a surge in traffic, which showed the huge attention from people keen to act on such a campaign.
So, let’s hope that similar efforts are made in Thailand too. Let’s support not just gender quality but also try to stop sexual violence in all circumstances. 
Women deserve equality – equal opportunities, protection and support. 

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