BANGKOK – It is a tough time to be a woman politician in Thailand. Parodies of its first female premier, Yingluck Shinawatra, insulting her as a whore and slut go viral on the internet, while crude drawings depicting her as a victim in a rape scene appear on protesters’ posters.
This nation was one of the first in Asia to grant women the right to vote but it is highly patriarchal and politics is still a man’s world, says Bangkok’s senator Rosana Tositrakul, 56, a self-styled “Buddhist feminist” who has had to fight her own battles in parliament too.
“Male MPs from the ruling party said in parliament that they wanted to kick me,” she explains. “The then house speaker helped protect them… and they ended up walking free from any punishment.
“I object to this sort of treatment of women no matter who they are, be they prime minister, MP or a woman on the street,” Rosana says.
But female MPs, who comprise just 16% of parliament, aren’t always on the same side. Last year, some stood largely silent as their male colleagues called for the rape of their female opponents; other female MPs have publicly fought over who is more attractive.
“It is sad that female politicians in Thailand tend to consider the importance of beauty over capability or intellect,” says Tositrakul. “It is also sad but true that even PM Yingluck, a woman herself, has never protected female MPs as a whole– only the female MPs and senators who support her, and she ignores those from the opposition.
Women in politics in Thailand face the problem of cronyism among themselves. Many of them don’t pay attention to women’s rights in general, but to the rights only of the female politicians in their group.”
This may be because the women who do make it into politics generally come from established dynasties, so they draw their support from their family base. “Women who don’t come from the families of influential politicians find it very hard to join politics,” explains Rosana, who entered politics in 2008 as an independent after 30 years as a social activist, during which time she called for investigations into corruption of the health ministry.
Her can-do attitude, she says, has given her a broad base of support. “When I walk down the street, people come up to me to have their picture taken.”
She is calling for an amendment to the constitution to require that female MPs comprise at least 30% of parliament and hopes that Yingluck’s 2011 election to the premiership will encourage more women to join politics. “Thai politics is really a question of polarisation rather than gender,” she says. “PM Yingluck is highly respected by people in her party, as well as her supporters.”
By Kate Hodal