06/22/2022, 18.18
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Global Summit of Women in Bangkok and the status of Thai women

by Steve Suwannarat

Delegates from 60 countries are converging on the Thai capital for an event that will jumpstart local congress tourism. Prime Minister Prayut stressed the important role Thai women now play. About 40 per cent of the country’s chief executive officers are in fact women. However, behind the figures, domestic violence and sexual exploitation highlight contradictions that linger.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Global Summit of Women is set to open tomorrow in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, bringing a thousand delegates from 60 countries. This year’s meeting (23-25 June) will focus on “Women: Creating Opportunities in the New Reality”.

The Thai government welcomed the initiative for its international resonance and as a step towards reviving the country’s crucial hospitality industry, especially congress tourism, an important market niche.

While Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha highlighted the immediate economic benefits (about US$ 2.3 million), his spokesman, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, noted that the summit, the first major international gathering with participants in presence, will also showcase the country's potential, starting with its organisational capabilities and its commitment to environmental sustainability.

For Prime Minister Prayut, a former army general who heads a civilian government that replaced a military junta that seized power in May 2014, the summit offers Thailand an opportunity to show its supports for women’s greater role in the economy at both regional and global levels.

On paper, Thailand appears to offer women greater opportunities and equality in the job market; for example, it is well positioned in the Women Economic Global Gender Gap Index for Economic Participation and Opportunity with women representing 40 per cent of chief executive officers (CEOs) in Thai companies and 34 per cent as chief financial officers.

Thai women, who obtained the right to vote in 1932, now make up 47 percent of the labour force, a record in the Asia-Pacific area. However, the positions they occupy often do not correspond to their educational qualifications since the post-secondary education ratio is 1.41 women for every Thai man.

Such laudable data suggest a great potential for the country, but geographical and social disparities persist; in fact, progressive legislation is still not reflected in practices and attitudes that still tend to evaluate women only in relation to their male counterparts.

Several issues remain unresolved – ranging from domestic violence to the lack of recognition of men’s responsibility in unofficial relationships and the children that result from them, to real sexual exploitation and discrimination against immigrant women.

More recently, women’s positive contribution has been acknowledged in the 2017 constitution and the 2015 Gender Equality Act, not to mention the Women Development Strategy promoted by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in 2017-2021.

Yet, “Despite the fact that Thai women hold executive roles in [the] public and private sectors, they are generally still underrepresented, especially in the parliament, government, judiciary and administration both at national and local levels,” this according to a report on Thailand by the Asia-Pacific section of UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

The study notes that, “In rural areas, many women in Thailand remain affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. They are largely concentrated in insecure and vulnerable jobs in the informal sector, including in agriculture and as own account and contributing family workers, with only a small minority in senior positions.”

What is more, while “Thailand has transitioned to an upper-middle-income country [. . .] gender equality and women’s empowerment challenges remain, particularly for certain groups and geographical regions including women from ethnic minorities, migrant women and women in the southern border provinces of Thailand in which violent conflicts have hindered human development”.

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