The activists committed to de-normalizing violence in Thailand
In Thailand violence against women and children is so commonplace it has become normalized in Thai culture. Violence often starts out at a young age, as Busayapa Srisompong, lawyer and founder of the SHero for de-normalisation of violence in Thailand campaign, explains “in Thailand, there is a saying, if you love a cow you will tie it up, if you love your children, you have to hit them. The use of violence has become a common way of teaching children in some families”. As the children grow this domestic violence becomes a part of life and some children adopt this abusive behaviour which later manifests into structural and societal justification for sexual and gender-based violence. “The power inequality leads to the justification of domestic violence in Thailand. Then when there is violence in school or workplace, in some cases it is not seen as abuse.”
“People don’t talk about domestic violence cases because they don’t want to get involved in other people business,” says Busayapa, “But domestic violence is not a private matter. People are afraid to speak out and when they do, society ends up blaming the victim. Law enforcers ask questions that place the burden towards victims instead of the abusers.”
Violence has been commonly justified and normalized to the point that most victims of domestic violence are pushed back into abusive relationships. Stuck in the cycle of abuse, the victims often face harsh societal challenges and repercussions every time they speak up. Why complain about something that is part of everyday life?
Yet not everyone is willing to accept such normalization of abuse and across Thailand, there are many committed activists determined to challenge such assumptions and norms.
In recent weeks and months, there have been numbers of local and international campaigns, forums, discussions and more focused on this issue. These have been central to placing domestic violence, and the factors that contribute to it, at the centre of public debate in Thailand. Because of this normalization, creating a safe space to talk about it, with people who are determined to talk about it is vital, and these events have done exactly that.
October was the worldwide ‘Domestic Violence Awareness’ month, which saw a number of events take place across the country. One such event was the ‘SHero Youth Forum for justice and de-normalization for violence’, held at the Thailand Institute of Justice, which involved participants from all over Thailand. The forum provided not only training and activities designed to inform and educate participants, but also created a safe space to discuss and explore ideas in gender, power dynamics and sexual and gender-based violence. These safe spaces are far too often lacking in Thailand and are necessary for such discussions, as activist and attendee Chidchanok Koblaung explains, “we need a space where people can share their ideas, listen to each other without judgement and can empower each other through discussion”
These activists, which stem from all walks of life are determined to teach empathy, sympathy and to start to dismantle the entrenched structures of gender inequality and cultures of violence within Thailand. As a guest lecturer, Professor Khun Nong-Yao Nao-Warat from Chiang Mai University explained, “we have to change the system that makes one group of person to be marginalized, and allows the other to be privileged. When we talk about violence we have to understand the root cause of violence itself. The difference in power and privilege, this is the root cause that leads to violent situations. So we have to think about how we can free ourselves from this gender constraints and justification of violence,” says Professor Khun Nong-Yao Nao-Warat. Importantly, this event may have been one of the first youth forums designed exclusively for youths to talk about domestic violence, but it is not the only event or campaign designed to end sexual and domestic violence and to stamp out its root causes.
Now, there are currently a number of events being held across Thailand. We are currently in the middle of the #16 days campaign, organized in part by UN Women who run the #hearmetoo campaign. Importantly there are a lot of campaigns created and run locally across Thailand, all aimed at promoting change and starting debate such as the #donttellmehowtodress campaign run by Cindy Sirinya Bishop, to the ‘Thai consent’ campaign run by Nana Wipaphan Wongsawang. Other campaigns include the #paintopower campaign held by the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation and a number of feminist art exhibitions which have been held around the city.
These movements have not only highlighted such issues and brought them to light, but also brought the social obligations to de-normalize violence and the need to act. Awareness of such responsibility is borne by us collectively within society. According to a lawyer, Panitan Phumbanyang, “everyone is part of the circle of violence. If we see a neighbour hit his wife, and if we don’t do anything, we normalize such actions and help the cycle of violence continue. It is everybody’s responsibility to take action”.
For generations in Thailand domestic abuse has gone unchallenged, today there is collective of activists saying is time is up and that such justification will no longer be tolerated. According to Chidchanok Koblaung “There shouldn’t be anyone who has to be a victim. If everybody comes together and shares their solution and ideas for protection, there is a hope for our generation to make a change. If not us, who else can make a change?”