Thai men’s misconceptions of women

CATW-AP executive director Jean Enriquez

19 August 09 – The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Philippines-based Coalition Against Trafficking in Women- Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) conducted the first ever all-male youth workshop on gender sensitivity in Thailand on May 9-10.

Lynette Corporal/IPS – Of those who applied for slots, 30 university students from Bangkok were selected to participate. CATW-AP executive director Jean Enriquez talks to IPS about the significance and impact of the workshop on changing the misconceptions of men about women and helping put a stop to violence against women.

This is the first time that a workshop on gender sensitivity was held for males in Thailand. How did the idea come about?

UNIFEM initiated the project, and we understand (it was) also inspired by the presentation we made at its conference on ’Men as Partners to End Violence Against Women’ on Sep. 3-4, 2007, where a young male graduate of our camps spoke.

Our project in the Philippines started in 2004. We have since conducted eight camps across the country involving 350 young men. This was followed by camps on ’Gender Issues, Sexuality and Prostitution’ for young women to address their vulnerability to sex trafficking. The graduates of the camps have become advocates (against) sexual violence and have created a multiplier effect as they mobilise at least 100 to 300 more young people to every forum they organise.

Based on what the participants in Thailand shared during the workshop, how would you describe the views of young Thai men on gender sensitivity as compared to other men in other Asian countries?

What actually stood out is the similarity in terms of socialisation. It is clear that patriarchal values cut across races. There are numerous efforts to help women, children, perhaps even men in the sex industry in Thailand. But efforts to challenge buying/consumption, and therefore this component of the demand side to sex trafficking, is still wanting. An enabling environment coming from the academe, government and civil society that widely critiques male consumption of sexually trafficked persons would facilitate young people’s understanding that there is a norm among duty-bearers to oppose such practices.

How do Thai men view issues of gender equality, homosexuality and masculinity?

Homosexuality is not a difficult issue for young Thai men, who recognize that homosexuals have rights similar to heterosexuals. Particularly challenging for them is removing ideas that blame women victims of rape and prostitution. There are strong beliefs among them that women want or provoke rape. The massive sexualisation of women’s images in media shapes their inclination to believe that women want sexual violence.

What other misconceptions about gender-based violence surfaced during the workshop?

That women enjoy pornography and are being used in the sex industry, that men should earn more than women, and that women should primarily perform housework.

What are the dangers of young men seeing themselves as ’protectors’ and ’helpers’ of women who have been subjected to various kinds of violence. Shouldn’t they instead see women as ’equals’?

Chivalrous ideas — which are still underpinned by views that men are strong and women are weak — are the normalised definitions of ’gentlemanhood’. Some may come from positive values as respect, but the training asserted that those have to be reinvestigated (to see if there are) assumed weakness on the part of women and assumed strength and privilege on the part of men.

As for proposals for concrete actions on fighting violence against women, the training included, for example, a proposal such as “don’t assume that women want to be protected; rather ask if (they) need help”. One should act based on capacities and skills on observed forms of violence against women. Collective actions are encouraged.

What kind of feedback and commitment did you get from the participants at the end of the workshop?

The feedback (from the participants) was very heartening. They expressed interest in working with CATW-AP and UNIFEM. Many young students want further training. They even want to come to the Philippines, having heard of our long-term programmes. Many admitted to acts they deem are violative of women and committed to start (correcting their actions).

A basic parameter of the training is creating a conducive and safe space for young men to share and reflect on their socialisation, thinking, beliefs and behaviour, so as to facilitate authentic redefinition of masculinities towards more positive relations with themselves, (the) women around them, other sectors considered marginalised (i.e., children, homosexuals, etc), and society at large.

Your future plans? Will there be future workshops in rural areas as well?

JE: We hope we can get involved in training other stakeholders such as teachers in rural areas in Thailand. We would not pretend that we can learn the (Thai) language quickly to be able to train young people in the rural areas; learning the language is crucial. In our experience, it has not been difficult to reach out to schools in the rural areas.

This feature was produced by IPS Asia-Pacific under a series on gender and development, with the support of UNIFEM East and South-east Asia Regional Office

source: Human Rights Tribune

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