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Women Lack Political Voice in Thailand

Women Lack Political Voice in Thailand

As election approaches, new report calls for urgent action to break male dominance in Thai Government.

Bangkok--Thai women face major prejudice in politics and stark under-representation in the upper tiers of the Government, according to a timely new report launched in Bangkok today by the Women for Democratic Development Foundation (WDDF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Holding one Ministerial post out of 36, with one Governor out of 76, and only 10 percent of parliamentary seats, women are strikingly under-represented in positions of power in Thailand, says the report, entitled Women's Right to a Political Voice in Thailand.

The report’s detailed account of this deep-seated inequality comes at a pivotal moment in Thai politics, with only three days to go before the country’s 2 April elections, for which 17 percent of all election candidates, and 10 percent of candidates from the leading Thai Rak Thai party, are women.

Visible progress, persistent prejudices

Women in Thailand have made visible progress in terms of life expectancy, maternal health, and education and literacy standards. Their success, however, is limited by a lack of political power and influence in public life and, despite some improvements, they continue to suffer the cultural and traditional prejudices of a male-dominated society. The report highlights consistent discrimination against women in the government’s administration, for example, when choosing candidates for promotion. Without a strong voice at senior levels, women will not be able to determine their own future, says the report.

“Women the world over have the right to equal representation in government,” says Joana Merlin-Scholtes, UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand. “Closing the gender gap in politics needs to be a top priority in all countries, not just Thailand, and will produce better governments and better policies for the benefit of all.”

The report highlights the extent of Thai women’s under-representation in the Government:

 Only one Minister out of 36, one Governor out of 76, and seven out of 76 Deputy-Governors are women.

 Ten percent of the outgoing Members of Parliament and Senate are women, placing Thailand in 113th place out of 185 countries around the world, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In East and South-East Asia region, only Cambodia, Malaysia and Japan rank below Thailand. For the world as a whole, the average of women in the lower houses of parliament is 16 percent, and in the upper houses is 15 percent, while for Thailand the respective proportions are 10.4 percent and 10.5 percent.

 Women hold more than two-thirds of lower-level civil service jobs in the country, yet just one quarter of senior positions in the civil service.

 0.3 percent of all District Officers, 12.6 percent of Deputy District Officers, and 3.3 percent of village heads are women. Women’s representation in elected local government bodies is on average less than seven percent across the country.

 In the lead-up to the April 2 election, women make up only eight percent of party list candidates and 11 percent of constituency candidates of the governing Thai Rak Thai Party. Women make up 25 percent of the party list and 23 percent of constituency candidates of the seven small parties also running in the election.*

The report also ranks ministries, independent bodies, and government boards and committees according to women representation, highlighting strikingly similar patterns of discrimination:

 The top three Ministries in terms of women’s representation in executive positions are: the Ministries of Commerce (50%), Social Development and Human Security (38.5%), and of Education (31.6%). The bottom three are: the Ministries of Agriculture and Cooperatives (6.4%), Transport (3.7%), and of the Interior (3.3%).

 The top three Independent Bodies with highest level of women’s representation are: the National Human Rights Commission (45%), the State Audit Commission (20%), and the Board of Governors of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (18%). At the bottom are four bodies with no women members: the Election Commission, the National Telecommunication Commission, the National Counter-Corruption Commission (outgoing), and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 The top three boards of state enterprises in terms of women’s representation are: the Tourism Authority of Thailand (33%), the Mass Rapid Transport Authority (20%), and CAT Telecom (20%). The bottom three are: the MCOT Public Company and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, with one woman member each, and the Board of Thai Airways International, which is an all male affair - 15 men and zero women.

Urgent change needed

In 2004, the Royal Thai Government pledged to double the proportion of women in national parliament, local government bodies and executive positions in the civil service by 2006. This was one of Thailand’s ambitious “Millennium Development Goal – Plus” targets, which went well beyond those agreed internationally at the United Nations in 2000. As this report highlights, however, time has run out, and this important target will not be met on time.

The report therefore provides a set of concrete recommendations on how to accelerate progress in reducing gender disparities in government and politics. It calls on the Government to show strong leadership by setting time-bound targets for increasing the number of women in senior positions, government committees, and independent bodies; reducing the male dominance of promotion and evaluation committees; sensitizing civil servants about gender equality; and strengthening the hands of Chief Gender Equality Officers and Gender Focal Points in public agencies.

Political parties are urged to open up their politics to women, encourage women’s interest in politics, recruit more women candidates, and set targets and quotas for women’s representation on party lists. The media and civil society groups must also play a leading role in changing public attitudes toward women, says the report, by engendering fresh perspectives among young people and working against stereotypes.

“Gender equality in politics cannot be achieved without a major shift in attitudes of people in general, and in particular men,” says Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakarn, lead author of the report and Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Women’s Participation in Politics and Administration.

“This will require an unprecedented mobilization of government, political parties, media, education system, and advocacy groups in an all-out effort to promote women’s right to a political voice in Thailand.”

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