The marking of Women’s Day on March 8 in Thailand is considerably “political”. But it’s political “constructively”. Demands for free tampons at workplaces, extended pregnancy leave or legalised prostitution, whether they are extreme or plausible or not, directly involve those outside the corridors of power, the real stakeholders to be exact.
If there is any good in cutthroat politics, it’s the great tendency for bold demands affecting real people to be accepted or seriously considered. The trick is that those “bold demands” must not ruin the economy or cause potentially disastrous divisions, but force the wealthier to share, the government to take heed and state budget to be spent the way it is supposed to. The demands must prompt competing political rivals to look at them without anyone feeling that the calls were crafted with an agenda “against me.”
The example came on Wednesday, March 8. The Thai Labour Solidarity Committee and the Federation of State Enterprise Labour Regions joined hundreds of women to demand the protection of women’s rights, better rights for women and eradication of harassment against women in the workplace. And they used the word “rights” rightly. In a nine-point list of demands to the government, they want genuine commitment to four conventions of the International Labour Organisation, namely Convention 177 on home working, Convention 183 on matrimony protection, Convention 189 on domestic workers, and Convention 190 on suppression of violations and harassment in workplaces.
Other demands include 180-days of maternity leave, 30-days of paternity leave, 3,000-baht monthly subsidy for every child aged up to six, a minimum wage increase, access to social security rights under Section 33 of the Social Security Act for domestic workers and at least one-third women’s representation in the decision process on all committees.
The women’s groups also demand that the Thai government negotiates with Myanmar to allow migrant workers to extend their work contracts in Thailand. The demonstrators expressed hope that their demands will be followed up by the post-election government.
There is no way Prayut Chan-o-cha will consider giving female workers tampons for free to be a conspiracy against him. Senators, no matter what powers they have, will never be paranoid about pregnancy leave. Better still, Prayut, while he won’t be using a free tampon, will need to study the demand and support it or reject it on sound reasons. Senators, the majority of them men, will do likewise on pregnancy leave.
The best part, though, is that if free tampons are provided across work society and pregnancy leave is extended everywhere, women will benefit, not Prayut or senators.
The same goes for social security rights, workers’ rights, education, and so on. People will have different opinions, but they will be “constructively” and peacefully divided. Bombs will not be thrown over how many extra weeks of childbirth leave women should get or adjusted definition of sexual harassment.
Reconciliation is important, but arguably more so is the need to amplify genuine demands and sanctify tangible pledges affecting the daily life of ordinary citizens, obligating politicians in power to deliver what they promised. Only when Thailand manages to do that can the country proclaim that it has achieved a “reform.”
In politics, the words “change” and “reform” have been tied too much to abstract values and too little to life of man on the street. To turn it around, the real stakeholders must truly realise what genuinely affect them and politicians must make serving their needs the main part of their job descriptions.
The opposite is happening at the moment. Thai people are fighting for things too abstract, and instead of making politicians “serve” what they want, it’s the other way round most of the time.
Demand makers should take a good look at the call for free tampons. It’s probably brazen, but if it is accepted and implemented, it will be politics as it should have been _ one which serves the real need of the people.
An ideal world seems tantalisingly close. Pheu Thai is promising a Bt600 daily minimum wage and Bt25,000 monthly salary for entry-level jobs within 2027. The Democrat Party vows to guarantee incomes for farmers of five economic crops and better welfare for all vulnerable groups in society. Bhumjaithai says it will subsidise households’ purchases of electric motorcycles, provide free solar roofs, implement debt moratoriums and modify cannabis-related programs. Move Forward pledges 350,000 “first houses” for people starting their lives. Thai Sang Thai will exclude more poor people from taxation.
Put them together and Thailand can be a paradise on earth, just like what the feminist activists’ demands can do to Thai women’s lives. Who needs ideological reconciliation if all the promises and demands materialise?
Well, the real is question is: Will there be ideological divide in the first place if all the promises and demands materialise?
By Tulsathit Taptim