Happy International Women’s Day, everyone. The global theme for this year’s holiday (observed every March 8) is “think equal, build smart, innovate for change.”
So with that in mind, Coconuts Bangkok thought it would be entirely appropriate to put together a round-up of some of the most vital, inspirational Thai women we’ve had the privilege of covering in the past 12 months. We’ll kick this off with …
Two months before the #MeToo movement started, Thararat Panya, a law student at Thammasat University, shared her story of how she was assaulted by an older student in the program in hopes of encouraging other victims to come forward and report assaults.
In a heartfelt public Facebook post, Thararat shared that she was intoxicated on the night of the event and was with several other drunk students, as well as her alleged attacker, someone she trusted, in the dorms.
“Fortunately, I had the opportunity to kick him and push him away. I got off the bed and cried. I didn’t know what to do. Everything happened when the rest of my friends were asleep,” she shared. She said that later, when confronted, her attacker said he had not meant to assault her and blamed his actions on his inebriation.
The post sparked a large-scale conversation online.
Despite getting as much online backlash as praise for coming forward, the student said her intention was to encourage and empower assault victims, not embarrass her attacker.
“By posting about it, I didn’t mean to shame my the person who sexually assaulted me, but I want to empower the victims of sexual assault and encourage them to speak up.”
Panita Roth and Benyapat “Worwaer” Kruenakphun
These two women are the co-creators of Curve Battle Thailand, a new reality series with a mission to promote size diversity in Thailand.
Unlike other shows on TV, the show doesn’t have a weight limit, but rather a minimum for hopefuls (at least 70 kilograms). Curve Battle, which puts its 14 contestants through fashion and makeup workshops, public speaking training, and tough workouts, is the duo’s attempt to spotlight a body type rarely seen in Thai media.
“We’re not saying being big is better. The tagline is love yourself. There’s room for girls your size, too,” Roth said.
“Our end goal is diversity,” she added. “Thai women are diverse. We have northern, southern, Isaan [northeastern], Thai-Chinese looks. Everything is about the mindset … Let’s embrace each other more and judge each other less,” she said.
Catch the new episode of Curve Battle Thailand every Monday on YouTube Channel Oversized Overzaab (Thai-language only.)
In August, netizens all over Thailand leapt with pride when Chayanisa pole-vaulted her way to the country’s first-ever silver medal in the discipline.
That’s right. Since the first Asian Games event in 1951, no Thai athlete — male or female — had ever medaled in pole-vaulting. What’s more, Chayanisa set a new national record with her vault of 4.30 meters.
“When I was a freshman, I remember watching older students compete in the SEA Games,” she told Coconuts Bangkok in an interview. “They were wearing the two-piece national team uniform in the field, and I just thought they looked so beautiful and prideful.
“I just wanted to be there, in the national team for once in my life — I wanted to know what that felt like.”
When asked what her secret to success is, she told us that there is none.
“It’s a lot of hard work. With vaulting, you’re using every part of your body, so I routinely have to work out every muscle. Practicing other disciplines like high or long jump and lifting is important, too” she said.
Here’s a woman that still proudly plays with toys — sex toys. And she’s trying to legalize it for the rest of Thailand, too.
As incongruous as it seems, the Land of Smiles is one of the only countries in the world where sex toys remain illegal, a fact that attests to the decidedly conservative views of sexuality held by a majority of citizens.
“We live in a society where sexuality is shameful. If adolescent Thai teens, especially females, start experiencing sexual desire, you’re automatically awash with guilt and concern,” human rights activist Nisarat Jongwisan said of the present-day reality she’s seeking to change.
According to her, the biggest problem with sex toys being sold illegally is the fact that the products can’t be monitored, controlled, or regulated. There have reportedly been instances in the past where women allergic to latex have had bad reactions to toys they thought were silicon as there were no warning labels.
What’s more,Nisarat believes legalization can lay the groundwork for societal change, providing a guideline that might encourage people to become more comfortable with their sexuality.
“I just want Thailand to know that there’s room for all different types of people in this country. Kids shouldn’t have to grow up the way I did [afraid of their impulses].”
Wipaphan is the founder of Thaiconsent, a local Facebook page that encourages open discussion of sexual consent that has so far gained more than 42,000 followers.
“I created the page because I was angry. I wanted to destroy whatever is causing this problem,” the 26-year-old artist and activist said in an interview with Khaosod English.
A victim of sexual violence herself, Wipaphan knows that the concept of consent isn’t something commonly understood in Thailand, something she attributes to poor sex education in schools, the romanticization of rape in Thai dramas, and the general taboos that surround talking about sex.
The page serves as her way to communicate with the public about a topic she believes has been heavily disregarded in the Thai mainstream.
Listen to her tell her story (in English) at the UN Women’s “E.Quality Talks” event here:
“Only when all Thai people feel empowered to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to sex, and the boundary between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is clearly respected, will our work be done” she said.
If you’re ever had a question about abortion in Thailand, Supecha can likely give you the answer you need, no matter how complicated or nuanced, without batting an eye.
Supecha Baotip is the founder of TamTang, an online-based NGO that provides accurate and non-judgmental information about safe abortions to women across Thailand. It is her life’s mission to make sure women of all socio-economic classes across Thailand have access to the procedure.
Though abortion still labeled a “criminal act” by Thailand’s penal code, a 2014 study by the Thai Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology estimates that 300,000-400,000 abortions are performed in the kingdom each year. The stigma and lack of access contributes to a fatality rate of about 300 deaths per 100,000 abortions annually.
Given that legal abortions are universally considered almost “100 percent” safe today, the fact that any lives at all are being put at risk is preposterous to Supecha.
In her view, abortion is a straightforward medical issue that should never be criminalized. She argues that as unplanned pregnancies and abortions are going to happen, regardless of the law, the government should be working to protect citizens instead of forcing them to turn to dangerous, unlicensed practitioners.