Will you be voting for a woman tomorrow? Thailand's female contenders assess the scene in the light of Hillary Clinton's bid for the US presidency, and ask the question 'does gender matter?'
Published on December 22, 2007
Women and the candidacy
In tomorrow's election, 844 of the 5,154 candidates are women. That's 16.4 per cent, a respectable figure in global terms but - to most Thai women and many men - still discouragingly low.
Some of the women hoping to become members of Parliament tomorrow were at The Nation last week to discuss the situation with academics, businesswomen and celebrities, and in the end they agreed to pool efforts to boost women's role in politics.
Thammasat University gender-studies lecturer Dr Kornvipa Whillas opened the discussion by pointing out that women continue to trail behind men in social status and job opportunities. The courts tend to side with men, she noted, while the legal status and rights of women remain unresolved.
Kornvipa complained that men lack sensitivity when called upon to provide help to women in need. Relief packages distributed to disaster victims, she said, have lacked such essentials as sanitary napkins and milk bottles for babies.
The insensitivity spills over into election campaigns, Kornvipa said, noting that campaign posters with pictures grouping several party candidates together routinely position the woman to one side.
The implication is that the woman is not a potential leader. It's a small and subtle point, she said, but the psychological impact on voters can be significant. Political parties would do well to hire gender advisers for their campaigns, she suggested.
Political strategists, Kornvipa said, still tend to view women as housewives and mothers, subservient to the male breadwinner, and even in the workforce, women are too often relegated to lower positions.
But Kornvipa also pointed out that Thailand's female MPs have yet to show they can make a difference or make better decisions than their male counterparts. The women who aspire to political office should consider Hillary Clinton, she said, and promote themselves not as female candidates - urging voters to give a woman a chance - but as capable leaders in whom gender is not an issue.
Women aren't meant to be leaders in the same manner as men, she said. They have their own strengths, and could well earn votes by, for example, promising a more peaceful society.
Chart Thai candidate Janista Liewchalermwong said she wants to prove that women are in no way inferior to men in guiding society.
She said her own experience has taught her that women and men fulfil each other's potential. Women's readiness to compromise, she pointed out, has often eased tensions in Parliament, ensuring
that debate doesn't get dangerously out of hand.
"We don't have to feel inferior," said socialite Darunee "Je Da" Kritboonyalai. "Great women like Tzu-Hsi Taihou and the Empress Dowager Wu played memorable roles in history."
Dr Kritika Kongsompong, a marketing lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, contended that women's status in society is today improving after centuries of perceived "inferiority" to
She said it's gratifying that women have moved into more meaningful roles in the past 30 years, and even gradual development must be welcomed.
At the same time, regardless of their role outside the family, Kritika said, women will always retain their valuable maternal instinct.
Teacher-turned-businesswoman Apiphawadee Kruesopon said women's natural gentleness and tolerance make them better suited to making decisions on issues related to education and other aspects of human welfare.
Globetrotting businesswomen Rapeephan Lueang-Aramrat suggested that since women are better able than men to see alternative perspectives, they would be ideal foreign-trade representatives. And, with the ability to introduce new ideas internationally, they could well serve as political leaders in Southeast Asia.
People Power Party candidate Suparat Nakbunnam said she entered politics to demonstrate that women are not only
smart and decent, they're courageous as well.
The media have an important role in shaping women's images and values, she pointed out, yet too often the most popular women's television shows focus only on beauty and fashion.
Democrat Party candidate Pusadee Tamthai lamented the disdain with which Thais in general view politics, which prevents many decent people, both men and women, from getting involved.
Being bigger spenders outside the home, men are more likely to risk the sizeable financial investment needed to run for office, she said, citing a study following the 1997 economic crisis. It found that 80 per cent of women's income went toward household needs, compared to less than half of men's.
Crucially, Pusadee said, women don't want to enter politics just because of the legal requirement that at least 30 per cent of every party's candidates must be women. They want to be assessed by the voters for their potential to serve, not their gender.
The balance between senior party members and newcomers affects women's role in politics, she added. Women need time to prove the mselves to the public, though some sacrifice will be necessary before significant change comes about.
Puea Pandin candidate MR Kittiwattana Jayant Pocmontri stressed the need for better education, with which she said women's status can continue to improve.