How the political divide has affected gender equality

opinion August 01, 2018 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

3,078 Viewed

Thaksin Shinawatra is, understandably, frustrated. And extremely frustrated people rarely watch their words. That being said, whoever helped him come up with the “camouflaged skirts” remark he used to describe the military government should have their pay severely cut.

If he alone was responsible, he should kick himself.

Associating womanhood with cowardice is not what someone deemed (in certain quarters) a champion of democracy is supposed to do. Most people have been silent about this, either because they like him or because they simply dismiss him. It’s worrisome either way, though.

A short recap may help explain Thaksin’s current mood. Military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has bounced back remarkably from dwindling public approval, aided in no small measure by the international spotlight that fell on the Wild Boars’ rescue. Not only that, a newly formed political camp seems to be growing from strength to strength in what looks like a mission to ensure he becomes prime minister again after next year’s election. The “last straw” came with a more recent development, however.

A few days ago, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) recommended that Panthongtae Shinawatra, Thaksin’s son, be indicted in connection with the Krungthai Bank loan scandal. To cut a long story short, Panthongtae is accused of laundering money from a loan that the state-owned bank extended to subsidiaries of property developer Krisdamahanakorn when his father was prime minister.

To be fair to Panthongtae, he was quite young at the time, and the Bt36 million in question was minuscule when compared with the wealth of his father, which was officially close to Bt100 billion.

To put this in perspective, if you had Bt1 million in the bank, would you handle Bt3,000 in illicit cheques that could give you legal headaches later? But then again, Bt3,000 won’t buy you supercars or luxurious homes, whereas Bt36 million certainly will. 

We shall leave it to the courts. After all, a case involving cheques should not be difficult for lawyers on both sides. The key evidence is there for all to see.

Thaksin, a shrewd businessman himself, must know a thing or two about cheques and related legal complications. What he thinks about the Panthongtae case may have been reflected in the “camouflaged skirts” remark.

“Normally, I’m not interested in Thai politics much because there has been a coup and Thais are being governed by soldiers in camouflaged skirts who are by no means gentlemen,” he said. Thaksin explained that he decided to discuss politics at his birthday party in London because there were Thai politicians and reporters present.

“I’m sitting and watching from afar and I can’t help laughing,” the ousted prime minister said. “The longer they try to delay the election, the more unhappy the people will become. They simply can’t understand Thais.”

Whether you think that comment truly reflects political realities in Thailand probably depends on your ideology. It did, unequivocally, reflect social realities in the country. Thaksin had no qualms about associating skirts with cowardice, but why should he?

 If on the other hand Prayut had asked some guys to “go and wear skirts”, critics would have rained down contempt on his head. That’s the power of politics to twist people’s thinking. But let’s leave the political divide aside for a second and give Thaksin’s analogy a fair analysis.

His remark reflects a very poor trait among Thais in general, whatever political side they may be on. We assume men are brave and women lack the same kind of courage. Thai society does not in fact regard women too highly. When a man shies away from a challenge, he is told to find a skirt and wear it.

Feminism has made its mark in Thailand, but in a weird way. Feminists, particularly those who rate Thaksin more highly than Prayut, have tended to be ambivalent over the 

former PM picking up the bad social trait and displaying it in full global view. 

It is admittedly a dilemma. On one side is a man who “disrespects” democracy; on the other is a man who either disrespects women or is so accustomed to society’s chauvinism that he does nothing to change it. In fact, he even endorsed the trait at his own birthday party, attended by senior politicians and journalists. 

The sad thing is that Thaksin’s comment will have no effect on any debate on gender equality. That’s because politics has been allowed to supersede moral and social values. When people disagree on whether killings were murder or law enforcement, associating cowardice with skirts seems trivial if not totally