Tackling gender-based violence

Bangkok (Thailand) – How the elimination of violence against women can be achieved in Thailand

In 2017 gender-based violence all over the world is still a notable issue.

Every third woman worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. Those incidents can impact physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive well-being, which makes violence against women a major public health problem.

Therefore, the 25th November is marked as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to raise awareness of related topics as rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment. Preeda Sirisawat, Program Officer at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Thailand (FES), is working along with the Social Equality Promotion foundation (SEP), who recently published the report “Women’s Access to Justice in the Investigative Process: Case Studies on Violence Against Women”.

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the global campaign #16daysofactivism, Maren Schindler, intern at FES Thailand, talked to her about gender-based violence and the current study of SEP covering this issue.

Why is the fight against Violence Against Women (VAW) so important and what are some of the major achievements so far?

Preeda Sirisawat: In 1993 the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women became the first to explicitly address violence against women.

In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In 2004 the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region was adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The international and regional community has developed many international instruments to tackle this issue of violence against women and girls, but it is still one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in the world and in the region.

How is this topic relevant to Thailand and what kind of measures can reduce the extent of those violations of women’s human rights?

PS: Incidence of VAW is very high in Thailand: more than 20,000 cases annually. However, the number of cases reported to police is much lower. In 2013 there were 31,866 cases of violence against women and children reported at hospitals but only 3,273 cases reported to police.

Why? Because of fear, stigmatization of victims, lack of information about justice procedures, poverty and lack of resources to pursue complaints, etc.

The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) held a review process in 2017, during which Thai civil society groups addressed these problems as a priority. Later, the CEDAW Committee recommended that the Thai government simplify women’s access to legal aid in suspected cases of gender-based violence, amend domestic violence laws which pressure women to reduce claims, accept mediation or otherwise forfeit their legal rights, increase the number of women working in the justice system, and improve the training of justice personnel on gender sensitivity, the CEDAW and its recommendations.

What is FES in Thailand doing on this issue, and which steps led to the recently published report?

PS: FES in Thailand has worked on security-sector governance and reform for many years. The police is one sector that the Thai participants agreed during many of our seminars should be reformed. Besides, police reform has been also stipulated in the new constitution of 2017, as part of the justice reform. In middle of this year the government has begun to implement the reform by appointing a committee to make a draft on police reform.

We held discussions with our partner SEP, which has long experience providing legal assistance for women victims of sexual and domestic violence. We agreed to work together on gender sensitive police reform. The first step was preparation of a report on problems and needs of women/girls who are victims of sexual and domestic violence. We organized focus group meeting with 11 victims plus a number of their parents.

Most were young victims of sexual violence.

Later we organized focus group with social activists, social workers and academics who work on this issue. Information collected from the first meeting was presented to the second meeting and this group helped make analysis and develop recommendations on police reform.

After the report was drafted we organized a public forum on 20 November, as a campaign on the occasion on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It successfully drew the attention of a number of mainstream and social medias. It addressed the right topic at the right time.

What are the main findings of the report?

PS: The topic of the report is “Women’s Access to Justice in the Investigative Process: Case Studies on Violence Against Women”. Women victims, among them minors and their parents, complained heavily about police and gave a long list of qualities they would like to see police display: friendliness, sympathy to victims, non-discrimination against women because of their gender or low economic status, respect for the human rights of all including the marginalized such as economically disadvantaged, migrant, or LGBT, general courtesy, knowledge of relevant laws and regulations, and transparency. There were requests for every police station to provide the following: handbooks for victims, standardized services, a private room for inquiry, rapid and effective processing of the case, and accountability.

The main findings of the study team are as follows:

  • Most police stations are not well equipped to provide services for women victims because gender has not been mainstreamed into the action plan of the police institutions.
  • Police personnel, particularly investigators, lack relevant knowledge and skill for working with VAW cases.
  • The number of women investigators is not enough to post one at every police station. Furthermore, there is no relevant training system on the issue of VAW provided by police. Some officers have been trained by NGOs or outsiders.
  • The work of investigators is not insulated against possible interference from higher-ranking officials. Accountability is lacking.

The main recommendations of the report are as follows:

  • Personnel development system is required, particularly training on human rights, gender-sensitive policing, updated laws, and the psychology of investigations.
  • Police stations should be well equipped to respond to VAW victims, including: a practical guide for victims, equipment, well trained women investigators, a privacy inquiry room, and a translation service for migrants or deaf-mute victims.
  • The number of well-trained women investigators should be increased.
  • A special unit on women and child protection should be established within in the police force.
  • Gender mainstreaming or integration of VAW issues into the police policy or action plan is required.
  • Accountability needs to be improved.

How likely is it for the government to integrate the report’s recommendations into police reform?

PS: They haven’t adopted any yet. However, there is a chance they may yet do so. Women activists working on VAW are strong, they have had many successful stories. It will be relatively easy to get sympathy and support of the wider public. ###

Maren Schindler is an intern at FES Thailand. For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Office in Thailand contact Stine Klapper, resident representative of FES Thailand at info(at)fes-thailand.org.

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