Muslim women in the South present hopes to UNDP, Government and donors

16 Sep 2013

imageUNDP Thailand / Mark S. Cogan : Women from 14 Southern Provinces presented their community-development proposals on September 14 to Government, UNDP and other potential donors.

Nine months since a group of Muslim women came together at Government House to launch the Leadership Academy for Muslim Women in the Fourteen Southern Provinces of Thailand, much has been achieved. With the support of UNDP, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, their hopes of empowering themselves and becoming active leaders in their communities took giant leap.

Muslim women representatives from Thailand’s 14 Southern provinces met on Saturday, September 14 in Songkhla province to present their community empowerment project proposals to UNDP the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the donors.

For some, it’s about opening doors to political office.

Mrs. Mirantee Maeroh has tried for years to elect women into local positions.

“Some of my friends tried to go for positions in the provincial administration elections, but there just wasn't any justice for women.”

It wasn’t just for Muslim women. Nearly every woman who tried failed. Women who attempted lacked not only the financial resources, but the social status commonly applied to men.

Out of roughly 7,000 political positions in villages and towns across Thailand, women account for just 4 percent of office holders. In the South, the numbers are dire.

“Many women are interested in politics, but when you go to apply, those who are in charge say you shouldn’t because your role is at home. They just won’t elect you,” said Maeroh.

Maeroh hopes that integrating democracy and Islamic teaching will empower women to understand more about how government works so women feel empowered.

“If we gave women more information, hopefully soon others will accept the role of women in politics better.”

Maeroh has never run for office herself, but has been identifying and assisting potential women candidates. She supported one woman for a sub-district election who has now been in office for two terms now. She hopes that her programme will help increase not only the number of Muslim women in office, but will support Muslim women in becoming good citizens.

In attendance at Saturday’s presentations included Ms. Pavena Hongsakula, Minister of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Mr. Luc Stevens, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand and UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand, and Ms. Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and Representative in Thailand.

“These projects are not just about Muslim women in the South. It is about opportunity. It is about working toward the full empowerment of women and girls. We at UNDP take that very seriously,” said Stevens.

“Today is indeed a great day for women—and men. We believe that a path has been paved where the Royal Thai Government and prospective donors can make the ambitions of these women a reality,” Stevens said during his welcoming remarks.

For Mrs. Jittima Jiso of Ranong province, it’s about children.

Many families work long hours to support their children—leaving before their children go to school and returning long after their children are asleep. Some work in factories peeling shrimp or packing fruit, while others work in constructions.

In between these long hours away from home, a pervasive problem develops. Their children get involved with the wrong crowd, and many become victims of drug abuse.

According to a 2012 survey of 1,000 teenagers by Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board, found that 94 percent used a drug called mung, made from a kratom leaf.

“The parents need to work, but they just don’t have time to see their children. They think their children are going to school, but in reality they are not,” Jiso said.

“Parents don't have the time to control their own children.”

Drug abuse is most common among young men, but is not exclusive of women.

Jiso wants to develop a programme where young boys go to school, make a plan for their lives so they can make money for themselves.

“We are also trying to prevent those who haven't done drugs from going down the same road,” she said.

The focus is on reeducation through informal education coordinated and paid for by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

“The hope is that parents will know that while they’re gone, their kids will be in school and will make something of their lives.”

Some projects are just about the roles of Muslim women in daily life.

Mrs. Saroh Yingkulchao, the President of the Muslim Network of Nakorn Si Thammarat aims to build the capacity of women in her province, including at the mosque.

“We have activities at the mosque, where women can come and help, but they want to expand their roles,” Yingkulchao said.

Yingkulchao wants to promote career development activities at the mosque, like embroidery and flower crafts. She also wants to encourage women to learn Bahasa and English.

“It can help us with many social problems as well as be ready for ASEAN integration,” she said.

Yet, she gets even greater joy in knowing that these women have come together as one.

“The establishment of this Association is an important tool to bring us, the Muslim women in the 14 Southern provinces, to work together to empower ourselves. Now we have the forum that we could share our experiences, we will be able to identify challenges in our own communities.” Yingkulchao said.

Potential donors, namely the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, the Provincial Administrative Organizations from Phuket province and Songkhla province, and the Office of the Islamic Committee in Trang province, showed their strong interest in some project proposals and requested that the project proposals be submitted to them directly for their consideration.

“I would like to applaud your success in bringing knowledge from the trainings that will work in your families and communities,” Hongsakula said.

“This is a great opportunity which has meaning for all of us. It’s an opportunity for these women to present their projects and for communities to l succeed. I’m happy to be here to give you my support.”