Advocacy for political equality puts UNDP in national spotlight

When UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Thailand she met with prominent women leaders and discussed the exploration of a gender quota system in Thailand’s elections and providing training for Thai women who wish to enter politics.

Highlights

  • At the preview of “The Glass Ceiling” on December 8, 2011, more than 200 government officials, political parties, national partners, and staff from UN agencies watched the film and attended the national policy discussion on women’s political empowerment.
  • More than 1,000 government officials and dignitaries viewed "The Glass Ceiling" as a part of International Women's Day festivities on March 8, 2012.

Since that 2009 conversation, UNDP began a series of bold initiatives designed to raise public awareness, increase knowledge and capacity, influence public policy, and empower women in Thailand to develop their full potential.

“A critical thing is to get women’s political empowerment--and that means getting the numbers of women participating in the process, from voting to being candidates, to being elected—up,” said Clark.

The need is tremendous. Women are vastly underrepresented in Thai politics. Out of about roughly 70,000 political positions in villages and towns across Thailand, women account for just 4 percent. As Helen Clark notes, women make up just 16% of the Thai Parliament, although they represent more than half of Thailand’s population. In Thailand’s restive South, it’s even worse as less than 9 percent of MPs are women. Cultural and religious beliefs contribute to this disparity, especially in Muslim communities.

Starting in December 2010, UNDP Thailand held a high-level forum with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to discuss the possibility of introducing a gender quota system into Thailand’s elections, which featured two distinguished panelists, a human rights activist from Pakistan and trail-blazing female politician from the Philippines.

UNDP Thailand and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security commissioned a national study which surveyed public opinion on Thai attitudes towards women in politics. The results were remarkable.

86% of men surveyed agreed that a gender quota system in Thai politics would help increase female participation
and over 85% of respondents agreed that a gender quota system would improve equality and provide greater opportunities for women in Thailand to demonstrate their political skills.

Highlighting the disparity in representation between men and women in Thailand and set against the backdrop of the election of Thailand’s first female Prime Minister, UNDP and the Ministry of Social Development created, "The Glass Ceiling,” a 30-minute Thai-language documentary about the many challenges women face when seeking public office and reviews potential policy options for improving participation, including the possibility of a gender quota system in Thailand.

Women's Empowerment
UNDP Thailand/ Mark S. Cogan : Due to substantive high-level advocacy over the last few years, UNDP has put political equality on the national radar.

"The Glass Ceiling" featured Thailand’s new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, former Prime Minister and opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. The documentary amplified UNDP Thailand’s profile among senior government leadership.

As a result of the December 2011 policy dialogue, the Muslim Women’s Association approached UNDP to develop a gender programme to empower Muslim women in Thailand’s Southern provinces.

“A forum like this and leadership academy would be especially beneficial to Muslim women in the South who would like to become more involved in their communities and in politics,” said Chabee-ah Yuttakard of the Muslim Women’s Association.