By The Nation
To say sexual harassment doesn’t exist in Thailand doesn’t mean that improper behaviour doesn’t occur. The term is a legal one, though, and in this country the public rarely hears about what happens. Reactions to the occasional incidents that do emerge are flash in the pan at most, and no case has ever gone to court.
But the fact that formal complaints are scant doesn’t mean incidents don’t happen. For women who feel awkward about their bosses touching them or making inappropriate comments, the only choice is between putting up with it and quitting their job. To do what Google employees did last week – staging a massive protest against sexual harassment – would be out of question here.
Thousands of Google workers around the world walked out of their offices to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. This followed press reports about Google shielding or paying off senior executives who’d been accused of serious misconduct. Those participating in the walkout demanded labour representation on the executive board, a safer and more effective system for reporting harassment, public disclosure of harassment statistics, and an end to forced-arbitration clauses that critics say make it impossible to sue the company over harassment.
It was interesting to see this occurring at Google, a supposedly progressive and liberal firm with regard to social issues. The protesters’ complaints of “a work culture that’s not working” and a lack of transparency erased the perception that sexual harassment was not a prevalent problem at sizeable tech companies. Clearly the problem exists everywhere. And it will
surely worsen without sweeping changes being made.
Central to the Google uproar was Andy Rubin, creator of the Android software, who was the subject of sexual misconduct allegations and was sent packing – with a multimillion-dollar severance settlement. The resentment directed against him was the spark that set the staff on fire. But his case was certainly not an isolated incident at Google, as evidenced by the sheer scale of the workforce protest.
No one of similar stature in Thailand would ever be brought down in this way. Here, it is widely known that many private firms place women in awful situations, and it’s often even worse in government offices. Pervasive male chauvinism is believed to be the main cause, but those blaming cultural shortcomings are reminded that, while incidents in the past were “out in the open”, today’s victims suffer in silence. Their abusers take advantage of society’s tolerance and a general unwillingness to turn such incidents into criminal cases.
Far more Thai women are aware of their rights nowadays and have the strength to resist – but still not enough of them. This gap in understanding should first be addressed by a comprehensive awareness campaign. Too many people, both men and women, define a sexual predator as someone who inflicts physical harm – they dismiss the psychological damage that results. Too many people believe a woman hired at a top-tier company needs to meekly accept the boss’ dinner invitation even if it feels like a sexual advance.
In purely legal terms, there is indeed no sexual harassment in Thailand. Morally, however, the problem appears to be so prevalent that few Thais recognise it as a problem. In this day and age, though, no one should be suffering in silence.