In December 1999, the United Nations designated Nov 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to commemorate the murder of the Mirabal sisters, the three Dominican political activists who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in 1960. Today marks the 20th celebration of said day, and therefore it might be worthwhile to review the current situation of violence against women in Thailand.
Like many other Asian countries, Thailand is a patriarchal society in which women are generally tied to the role of family caretaker which usually means raising children and taking care of the elderly, as well as other household chores like cooking and cleaning. Despite having such significant roles in their families, many women in Thailand are still facing domestic violence in their homes.
Statistics from the 1300 hotline of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security shows that, more than 40% of domestic violence cases reported to the hotline involved women survivors. A more alarming note is that this seems to be an increasing trend. Women survivors made up 41% of domestic violence cases reported during February to June 2018, then increased to 43% in the same period in 2019, and continued to rise to 46% in 2020. When including external violence, the proportion of violence against women cases received between during February to June 2020 is 40% of the total number of cases, which is an increase from 36% in 2018.
Another interesting data source of violence against women is the One Stop Crisis Center (OSCC) under the Ministry of Public Health, which shows that the number of women who experienced violence and came to receive the OSCC’s services at public hospitals also increased from 26 women per day in 2007, to 36 women per day in 2015. More than half (55%) of these violence cases involved their husbands/boyfriends as the abusers.
This increasing trend of reported cases is both good and bad news. While the rise in number of reported cases involving violence against women may be alarming, it is nevertheless a hopeful sign that more and more people are recognising that violence against women, particularly done by their husbands or boyfriends, is not acceptable. Statistics from violence.in.th administered by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security show that in 2010, there were only 156 survivors of domestic violence who decided to make an official complaint against their abusers, while 461 victims decided not to press charges. In 2019, the number of survivors who did not make formal complaints was also 461, but the number who wished to do so rose to 342. Therefore, the rise in the number of reported cases may indicate that survivors of domestic violence have been encouraged to confront their abusers because they have more choices to be independent, or have access to more social support.
However, it should be carefully noted that these reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg of violence against women. It is widely believed that there are still many cases of violence against women that go unreported due to many factors. First is the fear of retaliation from the abusers, who are, in many cases, the people closest to the survivors such as husbands and live-in partners. Second, the norms imbedded in the patriarchal society have pushed women into the submissive role of family caretaker, and enforced the unwritten rule that mothers and daughters should endure violence in their homes, for the sake of their families’ survival and reputation.
Furthermore, there are the social ideals about how “good women” should behave that lead to the practice of victim blaming and shaming. These include the notion that women can be harassed or even raped because of the way they dress, or because they are alone with men in private. These beliefs fail to basic human rights.
Last but not least, the current legal system is not survivor-friendly. Courts in Thailand use an accusatorial system in which the abused must prove that the damage is caused by the offenders, while the judge must remain impartial by not asking for evidence beyond survivor testimony. Often referred to as a kind of “re-rape” in itself, this process can disadvantage the abused, as they may not be able to remember all the details because of fear, shock, embarrassment or being unconscious during the ordeal.
Two decades has passed since Nov 25 was marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and today there are still many things that we need to change in order to eliminate violence against half of the world’s population. Change takes time, but the process must start now if we aspire to passing on a safe and equal society on to our sisters, daughters, nieces and granddaughters.
Boonwara Sumano, PhD, is a senior research fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First Published: Bangkok post on Wednesday, November 25, 2020