Nov 25 will mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Despite the event being almost two weeks away, local women's advocacy groups this week are calling on the Election Commission (EC) to work with parliament to draft a new code of ethics to prevent election candidates accused of sexual harassment or assault from participating in politics.
Led by the Friends of Women Foundation and its allies, the campaign is a timely response to reports of sexual misconduct among our elected lawmakers and national politicians.
In one high-profile case, the Criminal Court in September handed a two-year jail term to former Democrat Party deputy leader Prinn Panitchpakdi for sexually assaulting a minor.
Late last month, the Move Forward Party expelled two elected MPs — Prachin Buri MP Wutthiphong Thonglour and Bangkok MP Chaiyamphawan Manpianjit — after an internal party probe concluded there were grounds for sexual harassment accusations against them.
The EC, parliament and political parties need to listen to calls by the Friends of Women Foundation. Their proposals are important and, if implemented, can be a game changer in promoting gender equality in Thai society. One of its proposals calls for better oversight, such as for political parties to screen their candidates more thoroughly and over how probes are conducted.
Instead of letting parties or even Upper and Lower House committees handle sexual misconduct probes in closed-door meetings, the women’s rights group wants representatives from independent organisations protecting the rights of women and children to be allowed to sit on probe committees to ensure transparency and justice.
Recent transgressions speak volumes and show that our lawmakers are some way from being fit for the task. Indeed, several of them embody the chauvinism and misogyny that underline gender inequality.
In some countries, the way politicians conduct their family and love life is seen as a mirror of their real character and a political asset. That is not the case in Thailand, where the families and love lives of cabinet ministers and lawmakers are treated as private matters that society and the media must respect.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many politicians have mistresses. Neither is it surprising when male politicians in high positions “tease” women under them. Nor is it unusual for lawmakers to hire girlfriends, mistresses or wives to work as staff on the government payroll or for male MPs to flirt with female staff. When it comes to sexual misconduct, past offences by Thai politicians are looked upon as water under the bridge.
It remains a mystery as to why the Democrat Party — full of alumni from prestigious universities in the UK — did not red-flag the two rape charges Prinn faced in the UK two decades ago, as there were plenty of Western media reports about them on the internet.
Having said that, the EC and parliament have a moral duty to end the misogynistic culture that emboldens men to commit violence against women. Data from the Public Health Ministry is alarming.
Each year, 15,000 women and children are victims of violence. Of these, about 300 are seriously injured, left disabled or killed.
Ending this vicious problem must incorporate all stakeholders — family, school, workplaces and policymakers in parliament. As such, political parties must make sure our lawmakers are fit for the task.