Have 3 years of the Gender Equality Act resulted in more equality?

 
The Gender Equality Act of 2015 was enacted by the junta almost three years ago now. 
 
Although the name is seemingly progressive and rosy, one of its articles—17, paragraph 2—contains a worrying loophole that states that actions implemented for national security or religious purposes do not constitute gender discrimination.
 
In fact, the 67th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on July 5 in New York expressed several concerns about this loophole to the Thai representatives who attended via teleconference.
 
Prachatai spoke with members of official committees established under the act and gender activists about the Act’s implementation over the past three years. We found that trying to exercise gender rights by referring to this law is often at odds with the reality of gender discrimination.
 
 
 

 

Slow bureaucratic processes and speeding them up through subcommittees

 
The Gender Equality Act of 2015 established a Committee to Promote Gender Equality (CPGE) to enact the Act’s legal policies on a big-picture level. 
 
Suchada Thaweesit, who chairs subcommittees of this Committee, told Prachatai that there were two main obstacles to moving forward gender equality in Thailand. The first is the bureaucratic process that delays everything, down to scheduling meetings to discuss issues.
 
The second obstacle, said Suchada, is a lack of knowledge and understanding of gender equality issues among committee members. Members have vastly different understandings of gender equality, so the committee has to hold lectures to make sure its members are on the same page—slowing down the committee’s work even further.
 
Nevertheless, the CPGE has now established various subcommittees: for Policies, Measures and Plans; for Educational Development and Research; for Legal Matters; and for Public Communications to expedite the Committee’s actions. 
 
Suchada is the chair of the first three subcommittees, which she says hold meetings almost every month.
 
“We’re trying to push for government agencies to make action plans with gender diversity groups,” Suchada said. “Although I would like to do more, we’re just starting out. Plus, the Committee should not use its power to force government agencies to act in certain ways because this Act is more about supporting gender equality than being punitive.”
 
The key is trying to make both the public and private sectors understand what gender equality is through the law. She gave the example of sex discrimination in workplaces or schools. Ideally, people should be allowed to dress according to their gender identity, there should be at least one bathroom for people of all genders to use and derogatory language pertaining to gender should not be permitted. 
 
“Another policy our Committee to Promote Gender Equality plans to implement is that our members should be women, men and other diverse genders in appropriate ratios,” Suchada said. 
 

System still under construction and need to amend Article 17

 
Usa Lertsrisantad, a member of the Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination Committee (CUGDC), said that in the past couple of years her Committee has been constructing its operational system, admittedly at a slow pace.
 
“In the first year we could hardly do anything because we had to build the entire system, none of which was in place,” Usa said. “When we received complaints we couldn’t take action.”
 
CUGDC members also had to be appointed while the system for receiving complaints was developed. It took until the end of 2016 before the Committee could have an official meeting about the complaints they had received, which were mostly from gender activist groups within educational institutions.
 
“For example, they campaigned for the right to dress in the gender they identified with for graduation or within the workplace,” Usa said.
 
One reason why the Committee’s work lags is that they must give a chance for the accused party and others involved to defend themselves or provide additional information. 
 
“One of the issues we encountered was, ‘If the teacher is transgender, does that affect the students?’ We have to inform the accused party to see things in ways that they never even thought of before,” Usa said.
 
Complaints sent into the CUGDC are often similar, so the Committee compiles several cases before forwarding them to the CPGE to develop legal policies that can create change at a structural level, Usa explained. 
 
Article 17 The establishment of policies, laws, regulations, notifications, measures, projects or procedures by government agencies, private organizations or any individual with characteristics of unfair gender discrimination is not permitted. 
 
The implementation of the policies described in paragraph one to eliminate obstacles or support the person’s to exercise their rights and freedoms equal to others, to protect the person’s safety and welfare, to comply with religious principles or for purposes of national security are not judged as unfair gender discrimination. 
 
The second paragraph of Article 17 is problematic for Usa.
 
“We discussed that if a complaint comes in and the accused party cites national security, we will have to judge whether those are reasonable grounds or not. It’s not like they can just say national security and we will drop the case,” Usa said. 
 
In cases that cite religious principles, Usa says the Committee must distinguish between religious principles and local beliefs.
 
“Many of our cases relate to this. For example, some cases of violence against women refer to religious principles, but after consulting religious experts we see that every religion has principles of gender equality,” Usa explained. “Therefore, we have to do research and see if the alleged sexual discrimination due to religious principles is actually due to beliefs that should be changed.”
 
Article 17 paragraph 2, said Usa, should be changed as well.
 

Conditions Impede the Law

 
Natakamon Siwasilp, legal advisor to the gender equality activist Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA) Group shared her experience in trying to report discrimination using the Gender Equality Act of 2015.
 
“In October 2016, we sent in a complaint about a school that only accepted gender normative students and refused admissions from any non-normative ones,” Natakamon said. “But Article 18 of the Act said that complaints sent in had to have an aggrieved party, rather than accusatory complaints. In other words, if someone sees something wrong being done, they can’t just go and report it.”
 
Victims of gender discrimination have to be the ones reporting complaints themselves, and many are afraid to do for fear of risking their education or career. 
 
“The Act says that independent gender equality organizations can be the ones to submit complaints, but a victim must be a signatory to the complaint. After the complaint is received, the victim and the accused party have to meet as well,” Natkamol said. “After we submitted the complaint about the school to the CUGDC, they replied that we had to find an aggrieved party, in this case rejected students, and involve them in the process.”
 
The complications of the complaint process are another reason that prevents full implementation of the law.