Look at the World through Thai Women’s Eyes

Twenty years have passed since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. Then, a parallel NGO Forum—entitled “Look at the World through Women’s Eyes”—was also held during the official conference. Over ten thousands of women from all over the world, including over 70 women from Thailand, participated. It was also the first time that Thai women at grassroots level took part in an international conference.

Many of these participating Thai women were very excited to find out that so many groups of women from different corners of the world shared common problems. The difficulties that affected women ranged from domestic violence to structural violence in society. For instance, poverty, conflict over resources, destruction of natural resources and the environment, changing pattern of women’s work, massive lay-offs, subcontraction of homeworking, and the informalization of formal labour sector.  Several issues were new to the Thai women’s movement, such as economic globalization, structural adjustment programme, or certain significant but distant topics like peace and human security, militarization and arms trade.

The Beijing Platform for Action identified 12 Critical Areas of Concern as major obstacles to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Five years after the Platform for Action had been adopted, a global review and appraisal was carried out. It was internationally agreed that the world was changing so fast that seven new critical issues of concern emerged to affect the gender equality and pose a challenge to all sectors to quicken their necessary policy implementation and action so that equality, development and peace would be achieved. Those seven issues included globalization, science and technology, labour migration, old age, AIDS epidemic, natural disasters, and gender-based division of labour.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the world has met with continuous economic, energy and food crises as well as armed conflicts that occurred across the globe. Of particular impact were the 911 attacks and war on terrorism. As part of an increasingly globalized world, Thailand unavoidably felt the impacts of such incidents. The social, economic, and political changes in Thailand also contributed to massive changes in the way of life of families, communities and society at large. Women’s roles have considerably changed too. Such changes resulted in the country’s current political conflict. Fast changes at global and national levels over the past two decades have made these new and major issues neither distant nor irrelevant to Thai society any more.  The complex and connected dimensions of these topics have posed another big challenge to “How Women Look at the World”.

Look at Thailand’s Reform in Women’s Eyes

A number of academics noted that the women’s movement focusing only on women’s emergence in key political and legislative positions might not suffice. Thai women’s role as major economic actors in agricultural production, small-scale business and subcontracted production should be taken into account as well. In many cases, increasing economic needs forced women to spend most of their time supporting families and taking care of family members. Thus their child-caring role was jeopardized.

In addition, the gender dimension that concentrated on the changing role and gender relations might be far from sufficient. Since women have still been trapped in society’s power relationship, they were thus prevented from enjoying the freedom of choice of better life. So the interaction between gender and other social dimensions, such as power structures in society, should be considered too.

To certain groups of women, political equality and legal rights might be very significant while middle-class women might find it more critical to advocate legal rights and campaign against glass ceiling obstructing them from being promoted to higher hierarchy. But to women at grassroots levels, their fair wages and work safety were more important. In terms of politics, grassroots women have been key actors as vote getters or caterers for a variety of political groups. Nevertheless, the focus of interest of the campaign for women’s political participation should be their active and meaningful role, based on their existing capabilities in the organizations. The case in point is to increase the representation of women at various levels of organizational management.

Additional issues playing a vital role in women’s different needs are social classes and cultural diversities. The point for women’s movement to ponder is how space could be made available for such diversities and how those diversities could be integrated.

But the ongoing political conflict has overshadowed other important issues in Thai society. This has posed a challenge to how such political conflict could be handled; how the women’s movement could take part in improving this contention as well as meaningfully participating in the political reform. A key question to Thailand’s current politics is how political structure and political community organizations should be formed. The women’s movement could contribute to the search for an answer when their voice and demands, based on diverse needs and backgrounds, are heard and recognized.

The review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action was thus a review of changes in different areas of social life, political conflict and national reform participation. It is very important that women from different classes and cultural groups are given a chance to exchange their opinions and seek for their common grounds to work together, which will reflect the progress and maturity of the women’s movement.

The Beijing Platform for Action’s review and appraisal, a stock checking of women’s issues over the past 20 years, found that women’s groups have worked continuously on some issues but on others, no follow-ups were made. Certain topics lacked necessary information and systematic knowledge. So to further achieve thorough understanding and continued development of each issue, a systematic and continued process for knowledge and capacity building must be established as a platform for action alongside an active movement relevant to Thai society’s transitional circumstances, which seriously need the national reform.


  • Foundation for Women and Social Agenda Working Group (Social Watch Thailand), A Report on the Review and Appraisal of Beijing Platform for Action for the Advancement of Women, Bangkok, 28 September 2014;
  • Chantana Banpasirichote Wungaeo, Meaningful Integration of Women in the Living Economy, Journal of International Development Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, November 2013: 31-40; and
  • Chalidaporn Songsamphan, Localizing Feminism: Women’s Voices and Social Activism in Thai Context, 9 March 2011, Heinrich-Boell-Foundation.

By Ranee Hassarungsee.

Ranee Hassarungsee is senior co-ordinator of Social Agenda Working Group (Social Watch Thailand), Chulalongkorn Social Research Institute.