Written by: Potcharapol Prommatat
Edited by: Abigail Goh and Brenda Tan
2020 is an unprecedented year for Thailand. Not only does the country struggle to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also witnessing a series of political protests unlike any other in its modern history. At the start of 2020, demonstrations spearheaded by Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party) 2020 and the Free People Movement are calling for:
1. The resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha,
2. The amendments of the constitution
3. The reformation of the monarchy.
These three demands are an utter challenge to gain acceptance by both the government and the conservative Thais.
Along with the three demands, which imply the dismantling of the patriarchy embedded in Thai society through powerful institutions, including the crown and the military, several other issues have been raised by the protestors. Many of those issues are specific to women, such as abortion, taxes on menstrual products, and school rules that impose an outdated version of femininity upon female students. For instance, The Women for Freedom and Democracy (WFD) issued a statement in support of the Free People Movement which partly read “we cannot claim to be a true democracy when decisions about our bodies and reproductive health are still controlled by the government”. At a recent protest, the so-called Bad Student group, consisting primarily of high school students, highlighted the issue of sexual harassment in school and called out Thailand’s patriarchal society for perpetuating the victim-blaming culture. It can, thereby, be observed that the women’s movements in Thailand have found their space within the larger pro-democracy demonstrations.
Image Courtesy of Bangkok Post
While the scale of the pro-democracy protests and media attention certainly makes the women’s movements more visible, it has been argued that the convergence is not without struggle. First of all, not all activists agree that the agenda pushed forward by feminists and LGBTQI+ activists should be in the context of the pro-democracy movement.
According to Hao (2020), a young feminist who has been actively engaged in the pro-democracy demonstrations told her that the feminist agenda is sometimes set aside in order to “fight for democracy first” and that some groups are denied or not listened to because of their gender as well as other factors. The Pro-democracy activists’ dismissive attitude towards the women’s movements was evident in a Facebook group named “the Sanctuary of Wongyannavian”, which allowed its members, mostly pro-democracy men, to make sarcastic posts and memes about the patriarchy, calling feminists “ever-complaining women”.
In sum, the women’s movements have, on the one hand, amplified their voices by joining the pro-democracy demonstrations. On the other hand, it appears that feminists are still struggling to work in solidarity with pro-democracy protesters and to put up with actions that are very much at odds with their core values. Of course, the ideal way forward is for the women’s movements to create a space dedicated to their cause. But until then, their participation in the pro-democracy demonstrations will ensure the wheels are set in motion.