By The Nation
The Royal Thai Police, an institution long dominated by men with outdated mindsets, is losing yet more ground as other government agencies forge ahead into the 21st century.
The minds of top brass remain welded to values of another age, as evidenced by their recent decision to ban female applicants from the police academy.
The force justified its men-only policy by suggesting that many women cadets and officers had quit over the years due to family commitments.
Unsurprisingly, women’s rights advocates were shocked at the move, pointing out that the step backwards for gender equality would also have a serious affect on the prosecution of sex crimes.
They were right. Not only does the move undermine women’s rights and violate the Gender Equality Act, it also impacts victims of sex crimes. Female police officers play a very important role in such cases, taking the lead in the interrogation process. In rape cases, for example, the law requires that policewomen conduct the interview, so as to minimise the victims’ discomfort and thereby elicit as much information as possible. Male officers can deal with such cases only with the consent of the victims.
But with the new order announced in late August barring women from the cadet school, the number of female interrogators will fall dramatically. Besides discriminating against women officers, the edict will almost certainly increase the anxiety and suffering of rape and sexual assault victims as they face questioning.
The Cadet Academy, which dates back to 1901, has only been admitting female students for the last 10 years. Of 8,000 investigators in the national police officers, only 400 are female.
It is important that ordinary citizens as well as rights advocates throw their support behind agencies like the Gender and Development Research Institute, one of several organisations that have petitioned the Ombudsman’s Legal Affairs and Litigation Bureau to pressure the Royal Thai Police to scrap this plan.
The force should be reminded that Thailand is a signatory to international conventions that prohibit discrimination based on gender. At stake is the fate of some 3,000 qualified females who have been barred from becoming interrogators.
The police force has so far refused to give satisfactory reasons for the order and also rejected the group’s request for a meeting to seek clarification.
Shown the cold shoulder, the group decided to file a petition with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who also serves as the chairman of both the Police Service Commission and a committee responsible for supporting gender equality.
The top brass need to rethink this step before they progress with a blunder that will have serious consequences.
Their motto, inscribed outside every police station, states their duty is to serve the people, but citizens know all too well that police actions often fall short of that lofty principle.
Beside a change in mindset, the force needs major reform. When the current junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – came to power four years ago, they talked long and hard about overhauling the police department.
That talk quickly reduced to a mumble and now to silence, and with new chapter in Thailand’s political history set to start with a general election next year, reform is on the backburner. An opportunity has been missed and we can only blame the NCPO for not pushing the desperately needed changes through.
Beset with allegations of corruption, the police should have been high on the NCPO agenda for reorganisation.
But it’s never too late. Whoever comes to power after the nationwide vote owes it to citizens to forge a police force that truly lives up to its motto.