"The Glass Ceiling" shines light on political inequality

08 Mar 2012


Recognizing the importance of women’s political empowerment in Thailand and in the Asia-Pacific, UNDP and the Ministry Of Social Development and Human Security publicly launch a new documentary today, on International Women’s Day, March 8.

Out of about roughly 7,000 political positions in villages and towns across Thailand, women account for just 4 percent. In Parliament, women make up just 16%, although they represent more than half of Thailand’s population.

In an op-ed published in the Bangkok Post, Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Ajay Chhibber notes that the political empowerment of women is critical to human development.

“We must enable and support women in the Asia-Pacific to stand for elected offices and take part in the decisions that affect the lives of their families and communities. Not addressing gender inequality ignores the potential of millions of women and puts MDG progress at risk,” Chhibber writes.

Featuring the voices of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, and opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the film highlights the struggle of Siriporn Panyasen, a local Tambon Administrative Organisation Chief from Pichai District, Lampang Province.

The film chronicles her struggles as a child, where she left school at the age of 16 to tend to her sick father and provide for her family and documents early local resistance to her political ambitions.

Speaking directly to the issue of women’s political empowerment in the documentary, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra recognizes the skills and abilities of women who have not yet had the opportunities afforded to her.

“In reality, we see that Thai women play a big role, have a lot of endurance and have many capabilities.  In some ways I have just received a bigger opportunity.  I sincerely believe that many women, smarter than me, could do this job that I’m doing if the opportunity is provided.  It just happens that at this time the Thai people have given me this opportunity,” the Prime Minister said.

The film also explores policy options for increasing the number of women serving in Parliament and elsewhere—including the possibility of introducing a gender quota system at the local level. 

As Chhibber notes in his International Women’s Day op-ed, gender quotas are already a part of constitutions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.

Public support for political equality is higher than ever. UNDP and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in December 2011 surveyed public opinion on Thai attitudes towards women in politics. 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.

“Social, political, economic and legal barriers have hindered participation at all levels of government. To make gender equality a political reality, governments need to craft policies and programmes that build the economic power of women, promote a greater political voice and advance legal rights,” Chhibber said.

However, as many note during the 30-minute documentary, it will take gradual steps on the part of Thai society in order to make political equality a reality for women.