Cover Image: UN Women Asia and the Pacific
Gender inequality exists at all levels on school campuses, and speaking out to change it is up to everyone.
That was the consensus of panelists Monday at an event aiming to raise awareness about persistent gender disparities at tradition-bound schools, from the glass ceiling faced by female administrators to the lack of support for students who experience sexual harassment or violence.
“At the end of the day, it comes back to generations of our kids being told that men have more power and are more entitled than women. So for us to really see a change in our lifetime, we’re going to have to not just talk to the adults, but target our children,” said Cindy Bishop, a supermodel and instigator of last year’s #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign.
The event was held at Chulalongkorn University and included university faculty, attorneys and activists. It was the first of four appearances at top Bangkok universities for the HeForShe University Tour, organized by the regional UN Women office and related agencies in a bid to provoke dialogue between students, faculty and the public.
Part of the event includes Bishop’s exhibition of clothing worn by rape victims in response to government-backed morality campaigns that blame violence against women on their attire. She said wants to help empower parents to “become the change agents” of their households.
Chulalongkorn, one of Thailand’s most prestigious universities, does not yet have policies dealing with gender inequality, according to panelist Pirongrong Ramasoota, a school vice president and communications professor.
Saying she had recently suggested some be created to top administrators, Pirongrong said she was told to first survey the campus to “prove” that the problem exists. She said she’s currently working with students gathering information to do so.
On a less official level, third-year student Sirin Mungcharoen, who sits on the student council, said none of the many student clubs deals directly with gender issues.
“Even the student council has only organized a couple of events related to this problem, mostly because I pushed for it,” she said. Sirin added that school administrators frequently discourage students from addressing human rights issues for being “too political.”
Wasana Wongsurawat, deputy director of the school’s Institute of Asian Studies, said she doesn’t believe much can be expected from the administration, however. “They’re not even here right now,” she said, looking around as the room erupted in chuckles.
For Wasana, the biggest priority is abolishing the school uniforms she says reinforce gender stereotypes every day.
“People shouldn’t be forced to wear uniforms in order to receive a higher education,” she said, describing the uniforms as gender binary and archaic.
Bishop’s Don’t Tell Me How to Dress exhibition will remain at Chulalongkorn until Thursday before reopening at Mahidol. Its display of the clothing of Thai rape victims – one as young as 2 – is a powerful testament giving lie to the logic of victim-blaming.
“We all deserve to be safe,” Bishop said of women, no matter what they wear.
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