KHON KAEN— In a run up to International Women’s Day today, Khon Kaen hosted a regional event focusing on the role of women in Northeastern Thai society on March 4. The ceremonies, sponsored by government agencies, featured a market with women entrepreneurs, awards for women leaders, and a keynote speech by former senator, Dr. Krasae Chanawongse.
Dr. Krasae’s speech emphasized education, the role of Buddhism, and leadership, and it drew on a traditional description of a good woman: “Know how to use words, know how to work, know how to be generous.”
Audience members were invited to share their impressions of Dr. Krasae’s speech. One woman said to the audience of 500 overwhelmingly women, “The main idea is that giving, and not receiving, will make you a better person.”
Those sharing were presented with Dr. Krasae’s book, Success is Reachable.
Women from Khon Kaen province were recognized for outstanding achievements in 12 themed areas. Among those receiving awards was Ms. Pithayaporne Sukkho, 47, from Chonnabot district who was recognized for efforts toward “environmental care.” After encountering health problems with chemical-based dyes, Ms. Pithayaporne developed a system to make organic dyes with leaves and flowers. Her entire community has since adopted the method. “If we don’t start now, then there’s no one who will,” she commented about organic dyes.
Ms. Pithayaporne also expressed that women needed to organize among themselves and not just come together when “there is government funding.” She said, “Being more serious about holding women’s events can change women’s lives.”
This year’s annual event is in its twelfth year. Its organizers wanted to focus on family, community and local government, and to build ways for women to step up, become educated, and get involved in public life.
An entrepreneur selling her woven handicrafts outside the meeting hall, Kannika Unkam, 44, from Khon Kaen was more skeptical. “Selling my products doesn’t really empower me. Even though I own my own business I don’t think I am equal to men.”
Ms. Kannika also questioned the choice of asking a man to give the keynote speech. “The speaker should have been a woman. Today is about women’s power, so a woman should have spoken.” As she had come to the event to sell her crafts, she was unable to attend the keynote or awards ceremony.
She noted that the role of women had changed a lot. Before there were no women leaders, she said, “but today we can see that women have stepped into leadership roles like village headperson.”
In 2004 women represented only 5.6 percent of Tambon Organization Administration (TAO) ministers in the Northeast, while in 2011 that number increased to 12.41 percent.
One attendee, a graduate student working on women’s issues at Khon Kaen University, observed that there was very little in the event about the status of women in the Northeast or the challenges facing them. “I expected or hoped to hear about the current status of women and the direction of a women’s movement,” she said. “But today the goal seemed to be to give awards, compliment women, and to show examples. There was nothing concrete about the role or status of women in Thailand.”
She said that Dr. Krasae “didn’t talk specifically about women; he just talked about management. We are still under a patriarchy. Men do everything and they don’t believe in women’s ability.”
In Thailand, statistics show that women still lag far behind men in terms of vying for public office. Ranked at 90 in the world for national public offices held by women by the Inter Parliamentary Union, women accounted for 15 percent of the parliament in 2013. In nearby Vietnam and Indonesia, women held 24 and 18 percent of the seats respectively.