Thai student leader tapped as one of 2020’s 100 most-inspiring women

From left, Cindy Sirinya Bishop, Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul and Kotchakorn Voraakhom
From left, Cindy Sirinya Bishop, Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul and Kotchakorn Voraakhom

A 22-year-old student who’s become an instrumental voice in confronting the monarchy’s role in Thailand was among three Thai women recognized today as inspiring and influential global leaders.

British broadcaster BBC this morning revealed its list of 100 women “leading change and making a difference during these turbulent times” of 2020 on a list that included three Thai women: student activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom and model-activist Cindy Sirinya Bishop.

They were named among a slate of women acknowledged for their smarts, leadership, creativity and advancement. Others included 23-year-old Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow, Singaporean COVID response leader Leo Yee-Sin, Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, and award-winning Syrian journalist and filmmaker Waad al-Kateaba.

Rung, the youngest of the three Thais, was virtually unknown just months ago. But as a large pro-democracy movement swelled into near-daily rallies consisting of and led by young protesters, she quickly emerged as one of its most recognizable faces. Vaulting her to public attention was a fiery speech she gave Aug. 10 at Thammasat University, where she is a student, Rung delivered a now-famous 10-point manifesto calling for reforms of monarchy, turning the fury of the state against her – she’s been charged with numerous serious crimes including sedition – and winning tremendous support from the protest movement.

“Every human being has the same red blood. No one was born with blue blood,” Rung said at the school’s Rangsit campus, referring to the color associated symbolically with the monarchy. “No one should be superior than others.”

Panusaya 'Rung' Sithijirawattanakul. Photo: United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration / Facebook
Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul. Photo: United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration / Facebook

On Oct. 15, Rung was arrested at her hotel room near the Democracy Monument and accused of violating the emergency decree and organizing a major rally. She was jailed four days, released and rearrested again on Oct. 21 and returned to jail. Upon her release, Rung spent several days in a hospital recovering from fatigue before returning to the protests.

The second Thai named on the list was Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a 39-year-old landscape architect whose green urban designs tackle climate change. After Thailand suffered the worst flooding in half a century in 2011, Kotchakorn responded by promoting climate-resilient green spaces as buffers against the annual inundation. Among her works are Chulalongkorn University’s Centenary Park, a major urban eco park in the heart of Bangkok. She also founded Landprocess — a Bangkok design firm now building a 36-acre park up in Rangsit featuring “Asia’s biggest” urban farming green roof. Kotchakorn last year was selected by Time magazine as an emerging leader on its 100 Next list.

Kotchakorn Voraakhom.
Kotchakorn Voraakhom.

Last but not least on the list is Cindy Sirinya Bishop, a 41-year-old actress, model and and instigator of Thailand’s #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign to fight the attitudes that fuel sexual assault and challenge the deep cultural roots of victim-blaming. “[All women] deserve to be safe, no matter what they wear,” Cindy told Coconuts Bangkok last year. 

Cindy Bishop. Photo: UN Women Asia and the Pacific
Cindy Bishop. Photo: UN Women Asia and the Pacific

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