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Queen hails women's role in Asean

Her Majesty calls on Thais to reach out to their counterparts from AEC nations.

Her Majesty the Queen urged Thai women yesterday to retain their own identity by upholding and preserving their rich cultural heritage, and at the same time reach out to understand the unique cultures of our Asean neighbours.

Her Majesty's message to commemorate International Women's Day yesterday was delivered at the Foreign Ministry by Vina Churdboonchart, acting president of the National Council of Women.

Under the theme "Thai Women Moving Towards the Asean Community", the Queen also noted that, "It is indeed appropriate that Thai women become aware of their important role when the Asean Community comes into being in 2015, as this will result in much greater contact between Thai women and their counterparts from other Asean countries."

The event, attended by leading women's groups in Thailand, also heard from Shun-ichi Murata of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. He said the UN's focus for this year's Women's Day was on the problem of violence against women, which was an intolerable barrier to empowerment and gender equality in Asean.

Although progress had been made in terms of women rights, noted Murata, countless women around the world and in the Asean region still find themselves exposed to violence - whether in their homes or in public, in times of instability or conflict.

"At its core, violence against women and girls is driven by unequal power relations, an inequality that only increases when the threat of violence forces women to live their lives in a state of chronic insecurity. Such insecurity not only violates women's most basic human rights, but also stunts the development of entire communities."

He added that many women have yet to benefit from economic growth in this region. Even as many women start new businesses, the ratio of overall economic participation has hovered consistently at around seven women to every 10 men in Southeast Asia since 1991. Women in Asean countries continue to face barriers in security and equal access to capital.

In many communities, income disparities between men and women continue to reinforce power inequalities, encouraging societies to normalise violence in the name of family order. A 2011 survey of communities in Asean revealed 92 per cent of men and 94 per cent of women agreed it is important for a man to exert power over his wife and demonstrate that he is head of the family.

Vichien Chawalit, permanent secretary at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said the Thai government endeavoured to empower women by giving them access to healthcare.

For instance, the government plans to implement breast cancer awareness by training of over 1 million volunteers by June this year to facilitate effective sharing of knowledge and self-examination.

In addition, the ministry aimed to ensure Thai women keep pace with globalisation and the setting up of the Asean Community in 2015, he said. The government is also tackling human trafficking, child labour and violence against women and children.

To prepare for the AEC, the government has budgeted for the launch of 22 Asean learning centres under a pilot project in border provinces. The number is set to increase to over 1,000 centres across the country in 2014. The aim is to equip over 1.2 million women with knowledge of at least one other Asean language to enable them to thrive in the Asean community, Vichien added.

Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Puangketkeow said that although Thai women had become leaders in both the public and corporate sector, problems of unequal opportunity remained, fuelling violence and trafficking against women. He urged governments to use the Asean Human Rights Declaration to support frameworks and mechanisms that help ensure the advancement of women.




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