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March 3 - March 9, 2009

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International Women’s Day 2009


International Women’s Day 2009

Worldwide – but where in Chiang Mai?

Elena Edwards
Since its birth in the socialist movement in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year’ by the United Nations. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women’s advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.
IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, schoolgirls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
And, on March 8, 2009, the positives will be celebrated worldwide – and rightly so.
But here in Chiang Mai, or even in Bangkok, a Google search reveals not one publicised event. That’s right, not one! Although, given the difficulty of getting advance notification of any happening in our beautiful city which is not organised by expats, there will, quite possibly, be women who do mark this annual celebration of our achievements over almost 100 years. However, for NGOs working with minorities, and to the minority and poverty-stricken women themselves, however aware they may be of this significant date in the female calendar, what is there, in truth, to celebrate? Yes, in fully developed countries, women can become prime ministers, astronauts, CEOs, lecturers, etc, but here in Thailand? True, there are a large number of female university students these days, with not all by far studying for hotel and tourist-related degrees. SMEs and even large businesses do have women owners and even CEOs. But most Thai women who have managed to crack the glass ceiling have also had to take the decision to remain single. Not just because of pressure of work against marriage and children, but also because their male counterparts are uneasy in their presence, making it almost impossible to develop successful long-term relationships.
And, for the single mothers, the poverty-stricken, the minorities – the thought, much less the reality, of equality through diversity must seem as far away as the countries in which it is now regarded as the norm. For the Kayan, with their brass neck rings, penned up in tourist villages with their children. For the Shan and Burmese women living in hastily erected shacks in which we would not even house our dogs. For the mothers in poverty, single or not, who recognise that their daughters have the ability to benefit from a good education and a university degree, but will never have the funds to provide it. The trap springs shut yet again.
Maybe it isn’t surprising that this very special day does not seem to be celebrated here. Surely, though, those of us who are aware of its significance should at least celebrate by thought, or even by donations of time or money, the large number of both expat and Thai women, particularly the volunteers and the various groups such as Zonta, Soroptimists and Rotary, who contribute expertise, love, time and actual cash to educate, support and encourage disadvantaged women and their children.
Thailand is regarded as a ‘developing country.’ Development should embrace all citizens, at all levels of society. It is often said by women that they represent the largest minority group in the world, yet we all have the potential for development, both personal and in the sense of outreaching within our communities, however narrow or wide these may be. International Women’s Day, even without specific events, reinforces that sense of development by its very existence. Had we been born 100 years ago in what is now referred to as the first world, we would probably have experienced what so many women in so many countries are living through in the present day. Women’s equality in diversity, worldwide, has a long way to go. Not just here in the Kingdom, but in Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, rural China, Cambodia, India, Myanmar – anywhere where women are not able to reach their true potential through social, religious or financial and educational constraints.


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