Leadership Academy aims to give Muslim women a political boost

16 May 2012

imageUNDP Thailand/Mark S. Cogan

UNDP Thailand took another step towards the goal of political equality—this time with Muslim women in Southern Thailand. On May 10 and 11, Muslim men and women met in Bangkok to discuss a leadership academy for Muslim women.

Over 40 representatives from the South gathered to share their thoughts on boosting the leadership capacity of Muslim women. UNDP’s “Leadership Academy Programme for Muslim Women in the South of Thailand,” in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security aims to promote understanding and cultivate new social norms about gender equality among Muslim women and men in the Southern provinces. It also aims to improve the skills and abilities of Muslim women to take part in the decision-making processes in their local communities—with a long-term goal of increasing their political presence at provincial and national levels.

The programme also hopes to give a boost to Muslim women’s organizations, so that they can serve as a platform for promoting political equality. “It’s our dream to do something like this. But we are just a small network, with no resources. This programme offers us an opportunity to do good things,” said Ms. Wallapha Neelaphaijit, President of the Thai Muslimah Volunteer Group. Women’s political empowerment is a challenge worldwide. Women hold less than 20 percent seats in national Parliaments.

In the Asia-Pacific region, women make up 18 percent, while Thai women hold just 16 percent. There is only one female Muslim member of Thailand’s Parliament.

“Just one person? That’s not enough. We can do better. I see women from different groups from different levels here. We just need to get started,” said Prof. Amara Pongsapich, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

The Programme has also gained support from Muslim men, who represent religious leaders, community leaders, government officials, and civil society organizations to ensure that mutual understanding and common ground could be established, as well as to enlist their support and participation. “To promote women’s political participation, we need to get men on board. This isn’t just true in the South. It’s important all over Thailand,” said Yuxue Xue, UNDP Resident Representative (a.i) in Thailand.

“We must not underestimate the potential of women. Many women possess the qualifications needed to hold political office, but they not always have access to the same resources as men in terms of launching a political career,” said Mr. Xue in his remarks on May 10.

“We must bridge the gap from having the desire to having the opportunity, from being willing to being empowered.”