Breaking the Silence on Domestic Violence
Television personality, constitutional law expert and former Miss Thailand, Khun Areewan has always been a symbol of glamour and inspiration. And, as more people are finding out that she is also a victim of domestic violence, she has become a symbol of defiance and strength.
“From a young age I have been brought up in a structure of the Thai family where women aren’t equal to men,” she said. “My boyfriend wanted to get married. I introduced him to my parents. That’s when he started beating me. At that time I thought this was his way of loving me.”
For years, she accepted the abuse. Like many women in her situation, she made excuses for what was happening. But one day she found the courage to leave. “I realized I was a victim of domestic violence. This was the starting point of my interest in women issues.”
As she recovered, she realized countless others had suffered as she had. At that moment, she decided to tell her story publicly. Governments, political parties, women groups, magazines, television shows - anywhere she could tell her story, she would. Her activism and voice formed part of a groundswell of support that led to Thailand’s first ever law regarding victims of domestic violence.
Domestic Violence is now a crime. Women who suffer from it can take their abusers to court. For the past three years, the United Nations Development program along with other UN agencies, is working with the Royal Thai Government to implement the act effectively. This includes establishing a monitoring and reporting system and using public campaigns to raise awareness of domestic violence issues.
Engaging women like Khun Areewan is crucial to inspire others to report cases of abuse and seek support. “The first challenge is to change the structure of Thai society, Areewan explained. “Men are always perceived to be on a higher level.”
The number of reported cases of violence against women and children is on the rise, from 11,542 in 2005 to 13,550 in 2006. According to the Public Health Ministry's One Stop Crisis Center (OSCC), in 2007, there were more than 19,000 cases of violent abuse reported against women and children, 80 percent involved domestic violence. Husbands, lovers or relatives are the majority of the perpetrators of domestic violence – often involving abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Khun Nareerat has provided support to abused women since 1998. This includes counseling, legal guidance, a place to stay and even a hot meal. “For the past two years, we worked with various organizations in many provinces and found that people are aware of the Domestic Violence Act, yet there are obstacles in its implementation,” said Nareerat.
She added that although more cases are being reported to the police and hospitals a lot remains to be done to increase the ability of the authorities to respond effectively. To effectively tackle violence against women – and the unequal power relations between men and women – it is also crucial to address overall gender inequalities.
“Women play a major role in the Thai economy, and Thailand has a good record of commitments to gender equality. However, women do not always have a status equal to their role in society,” said Gwi-Yeop Son, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand.
With the law prohibiting domestic violence now in place, and women like Khun Areewan continuing to speak out on this issue, domestic violence can no longer be ignored in Thailand.