Thai Representative Gives Perspective on International Women's Issues

NORTH BENNINGTON - Two diplomats visited Bennington College Saturday to hold a talk on women's empowerment and the changing role of women in the workplace. 

The event was a collaborative between the Grace Initiative and Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action.

Chulamanee Chartsuwan, ambassador and deputy permanent representative from Thailand and Fabian Garcia discussed the two-week United Nations Commission on the Status of Women along with issues in their home countries regarding gender equality and other ongoing social problems.

Since 1947, women and men from ministries of foreign affairs, government positions, and civil society meet each year to have discussions on topics regarding women. This year's meeting focused mostly on women's empowerment and women in the workforce, along with the "Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls."

Chartsuwan has been working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand since 1984. She has worked in Hauge and Singapore, and even in Brussels as the deputy chief of mission in the Royal Thai Embassy to Belgium and the mission to the European Union. 

Chartsuwan gave insight on Thailand's perspective on women and noted that it's important for people to understand that these views are diverse across Asia.

"You need to look at each society differently before jumping to conclusions that this is the case for every woman," she said. "That you have to be submissive and do housework; no, that's not the case in Thailand."

Charstuwan gave a short synopsis of the historical background between men and women in her country. Two hundred to 300 years ago, men in Thailand had to leave their families for months at a time while doing some service for the state, as there was no taxes in the country at the time. With the men away, women had to become the heads of their households - some women became involved with the government. To this day women continue to contribute to decision making.

According to Chartsuwan, about 60 percent of Thailand's labor force is women. Roughly 6.8 percent of women are under the poverty line - there is no gender bias in poverty. Women have become much more accepted in the workforce, but they still do deal with the pressures of attending to family life. There is roughly an even split between women and men who own businesses, one of the highest in the world.

Despite all of this, the glass ceiling continues to exist. Chartsuwan believes that there is more work to be done to include women in politics. Women are also drawn back from reaching their full potential due to education. Some groups of women do not have equal access to good education, she said.

"In my ministry, we have more and more women, but at the top, it is still dominated by men," Chartsuwan said. "In my mission we recruit the brightest to the mission to support the work. I am proud to report to you that 75 percent of people in the mission are women." 

Even though there are laws about gender equality and family development, there is still much more that needs to be done.

According to Garcia, some studies have suggested that it will take about 180 years for men and women to earn the same amount of money. Whatever steps the United Nations can do now to help speed up that process helps in the long run, he said. 

"Men are partners in the quest of equality," Garcia said.

Both Chartsuwan and Garcia gave listeners a view on what it takes and means to work with the United Nations. They both reflected that it is a challenging job, that also offers them many different life experiences - sometimes they are even advocating for things they do not agree with for their government. It is also hard for them and their families, as they often have to relocate for different jobs.