Thai junta expected to pass Gender Equality bill, strongly opposed by women rights groups

Prachatai reported earlier on the pros and cons of the Civil Partnership Registration bill which is expected to be passed by the junta-appointed parliament. Another gender-related bill to be deliberated soon is the Gender Equality bill, which criminalizes discrimination among the sexes and genders. If passed, it will be the first Thai law to contain language mentioning homosexuals. However, gender activists have cried foul, saying that the bill still perpetuates discrimination. 
 
According to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS), the bill is aimed at eliminating discrimination and unfair treatment based on one’s sex. 
 
It also stipulates that a person can be male, female or “a person who has a sexual expression different from that person’s original sex”. However, there are three situations where equality is not mandated. These exceptions are: education, religion and the public interest.
 
Article 3 of the bill states: ‘Unfair discrimination among the sexes’ means any act or failure to act which segregates, obstructs or limit any rights, whether directly or indirectly, without legitimacy because that person is male or is female or has a sexual expression different from that person’s original sex, except in cases related to academic matters, religion and the public interest. 
 
The bill also stipulates that a Committee on Gender Equality to be founded, which will be responsible for promoting gender equality, receiving petitions on sexual discrimination and giving remedies to those discriminated against. 
 
Kertchoke Kasamwongjit, a Justice Ministry official, who heads the team drafting the Civil Partnership Registration bill specifically for same-sex couples, told Prachatai that he believes if the Gender Equality bill is passed, it will make it even easier to pass the Civil Partnership Registration Bill. 
 
He added the bill will be the first to explicitly recognize gender diversity in Thai law. 
 
“This bill will be very important for the future of all the LGBT people in Thailand,” he said.
 
Although the concepts behind the bill sound good, the exceptions allowing discrimination have aroused criticism among gender-focussed groups. They are against the passing of this bill if the exceptions are not removed.
 
In early October, Usa Lerdsrisuntad, a leader of the Foundation For Women (FFM) issued a letter to NLA Deputy Chairman Surachai Liengboonlertchai, urging revision of the bill. “I actually don’t know what they [MSDHS] are trying to say with these exceptions,” she said. 
 
She strongly believes that these exceptions will provoke further discrimination against women in Thailand. The exceptions are too vague, she said. 
 
“For example, women would definitely be discriminated in places of religion under these exceptions, even though at the same time gender equality is still mandated.”
 
Also, the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR SOGI), a leading LGBT organization in Thailand, strongly disapproves of the bill. Although Article 3 stipulates gender equality and even mentions a sex other than male and female, it says the exceptions mentioned earlier will affect not only women, but also many LGBT people in this society.
 
“We didn’t support the bill from the beginning,” said Chantalak Raksayu, Public Communications Officer of FOR SOGI. “Not only women, but also many LGBT people will definitely suffer from these exceptions.”
 
However, Kantapong Rangsesawang, Senior Professional Level Legal Officer, who works for the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development which is responsible for the Gender Equality bill at  MSDHS, explains the importance of the exceptions in protecting Thai culture and conventions.
 
He explained that there are many situations where people inevitably face sexual discrimination. For example, when university students attend graduation ceremonies, they are required to wear student uniforms that correspond to their original sex. Religious places are even more sensitive, he added. Buddhism in Thailand, for instance, does not allow a woman to become a monk.
 
“People shouldn’t wear bikinis to the temple, even though it’s their right to do so,” said Kantapong.
 
“I understand their [FFW’s] argument. However, I believe that, in some cases, in order to protect Thai culture and conventions, these exceptions are necessary.”
 
The Ministry has already submitted the bill to the Cabinet, who are lining up bills to go to the NLA. Since the bill has not yet submitted to the NLA, there is still a chance to revise it.