‘We have to try harder than the men’ – women politicians struggle for parity


Women politicians are far from achieving gender equality in a male-dominated field.

Thailand was once regarded as one of the most progressive in fostering gender equality. It was the second country in Asia to grant women the right to vote, as far back as 1932. A recent report, “Freedom in the World 2024”, however, shows that women in Thailand remain overlooked in politics and government at all levels.

The study by Freedom House, a US-based political advocacy organisation, said that women’s interests are generally not prioritised in political life.

The Kingdom got two out of four points in the report’s “political rights and electoral opportunities for various segments of the population” section.

“If we [women] do not work outstandingly either while working in a [House] committee or debating in parliament, we won’t be interested. It seems like we need to try harder than the men,” says Sasinan Thamnithinan, a Move Forward Party MP, in an interview with The Nation.

"Women are not decorative flowers in politics," says Sasinan, 34. “We are capable of talking about serious social issues in parliamentary debates like the men do, such as police and army reform, not just so-called feminine topics like household violence,” she says.

The lawmaker is among 32 female politicians, out of the total of 151, who secured their MP seats under the Move Forward banner in the May 14 general election. Move Forward has the highest number of women MPs among all parties.

Sasinan Thamnithinan

Marginal improvement in representation

At around 19 per cent, the total number of women in the House of Representatives currently makes up nearly a fifth of the total strength, an improvement over the 16 per cent in the previous House, according to Freedom House.

However, the number is still below the global average of women in parliament: 24.9% in the House of Representatives, as per Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organisation of national parliaments.

IPU data, as of January 2024, shows Rwanda has the most number of women in the lower house at 61.3 per cent, followed by Cuba (55.7%), Nicaragua (53.9%), Mexico (50.4%), and Andorra (50%).

With such a small number of female politicians, Tidarat “Tida” Yingcharoen said people often did not realise her role in politics, or the positions she held.

“If you tag along with a male politician, people will ask [if] you are his secretary, his daughter, or his wife, instead of someone who has a title and a proven position to be actually out there,” she says, highlighting a common stereotype, and about women’s capabilities being devalued.

Tidarat served as spokesperson of the opposition Thai Sang Thai party before stepping down in October last year. She was a member of the now-ruling Pheu Thai Party and now serves as a member of several House committees.

“When I was with a political party, I was the youngest executive member of a party. I held many positions, but people rarely gave me my due,” she says.

She reveals being singled out for gender-targeted attacks and online bullying based on physical appearance, often used as a hitting under-the-belt tactic by certain individuals to destroy their political competitors. Men are never subjected to the same treatment as women, she says.

Tidarat “Tida” Yingcharoen

Laws to what avail

Thailand has enacted laws to guarantee gender parity. Among them are Section 27 of the current Constitution that stipulates men and women shall enjoy equal rights, as well as the Gender Equality Act 2015 that led to the creation of a committee to specifically work on gender equality issues.

Despite the regulations, some think they are inadequate. Pailin Phujeenaphan, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Political Science, urges Thailand to employ a “gender quota” system, meaning that some seats should be reserved by only women.

Pailin’s opinion is shared by MP Sasinan, who says at least 30 per cent of all House committee chairpersons need to be women and that a quota for women for vital political posts like House speaker is necessary.

Of the 35 House committee chairpersons, only four are women.

Speaking of the attempts by the coalition government to rectify gender inequality, the leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, said on her Facebook page on International Women’s Day (March 8) that increasing the number of women politicians is one of her party’s goals.

“We want to enable every woman to see possibilities and find space on the political stage. The women of the next generation who dream of becoming politicians would see the political stage as theirs,” said Paetongtarn.

She added that a flourishing economy, which the government was striving to achieve, would open doors of opportunities for people of all genders, resulting in sustainable societal equality.

The Pheu Thai chief also cited the policies of her party like women's funding, free cervical cancer vaccine, and extension of maternity leave as policies aimed at helping the women’s cause.