'Strong gender laws necessary'
Discrimination, inequality still rife at workplaces, universities: panellists
A new bill guaranteeing and protecting genuine gender equality is needed in order to foster a more equal society, panellists at a symposium concluded yesterday.
The symposium was being held to mark International Women's Day today.
Naiyana Suphapeung, feminist and a former national human-rights commissioner, said women and transgendered people were still being discriminated against in the workplace and some educational institutes in Thailand.
Naiyana, who spoke at the symposium organised by the Law Reform Commission of Thailand (LRCT), claimed the Foreign Ministry continued to unfairly select male applicants over women because senior officials preferred male diplomats.
Technical vocational colleges also discriminated against admitting female students, she said, because they still thought mechanical work was for men.
In another case, Naiyana said a transgender staff member at a private firm with a mother company in Hong Kong, eventually won a lawsuit in Labour Court after the defendant was disqualified by the mother company over sexual orientation.
"If there was a law, companies [and organisations] could face criminal punishment if they [failed to] ensure equal gender treatment and opportunity," said Naiyana.
Naiyana said under this new law, people failing to respect gender diversity and equality should not be automatically be given a prison sentence, but instead educated, sensitised and given a chance to improve themselves and their organisation.
Three competing bills are now waiting in the Parliament - one from activists, one from LRCT and the third by the Human Security and Social Development Ministry. All three of these bills were criticised at the symposium for being far too diluted and conservative to be effective.
Areewan Jatuthong, member of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on youth, women, elderly and disabled peoples' rights said the government's bill, for instance, did not require that members of the proposed gender promotion commission to be selected from a pool of gender experts.
Instead, it favoured senior bureaucrats, who are likely to be male and not sensitive to gender equality.
Other flaws pointed out by Areewan included the low budget allocated in the government's bill as well as a lack of mechanism to stop and punish those who discriminate.
Assoc Prof Virada Somswasdi, an LRCT commissioner overseeing gender-equality issues and founder of Chiang Mai University's Women Studies Programme, said LRCT would be holding public hearings in order to collect ideas and feedback.
Later this month, LRCT will be heading South to Krabi province for two days to listen to local people.
Virada cited issues like the lack of toilets that specifically serve transgendered people as one of the numerous challenges yet to be tackled by Thai society.
"There should be no discrimination," Virada stressed.