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‘Bring the Elephant Home’

Statins - do they help or do they harm?

Gender Justice and Women’s Human Rights seminar offers challenging ideas

 

‘Bring the Elephant Home’

Elena Edwards
Last year, the Chiang Mai Mail published an article by a Dutch conservationist and activist, Antoinette van de Water, who is working to restore the natural forest habitat of the sadly diminished number of wild elephants in Thailand, in order to conserve and protect these amazing beasts.

Antoinette van de Water with the Terre des Femmes 2009 award.

Antoinette is the founder and driving force behind the ‘Bring the Elephant Home’ foundation, which was formed to create a better future for Thai elephants. Her passion and concern for the giant pachyderms originated during her time spent volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, and resulted in her eventual move to Thailand and her commitment to removing elephants from the harsh streets of tourist towns and re-establishing them in their natural habitat.
Most street elephants come from Isaan, where most of the forest areas have been lost due to cultivation. No food, no habitation, and no money forces traditional elephant families to find income elsewhere in cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Despite media reports of a change in the law which allowed mahouts to bring their elephants into the cities, the heartbreaking sight of the huge beasts tramping along city streets as a tourist attraction is still common.
More heartbreaking still, here in Chiang Mai, are the baby elephants which are dragged around the bars in the night market area, with their mahouts encouraging tourists to buy tiny bags of food and to feed the unhappy beasts. It’s simple…elephants do not belong in cities. The hard road surfaces are detrimental to their feet, the closed-in feel of city streets are threatening to a species which needs the wide open spaces of fields and forest to thrive, and the right kind of food to ensure the elephants’ well-being and health is just not available in towns.
Street elephants will only thrive when they are re-introduced into natural surroundings such as that provided by the Elephant Nature Park or Antoinette’s Elephant Island project, begun at a site adjacent to a traditional Isaan mahout village, where the needs of the mahouts as well as the elephants themselves are being considered.
Antoinette’s pilot project is one of community development to help people and elephants co-exist together, and aims to create more food and a natural environment for the elephants in the village. There are also plans to generate income for elephant families (e.g. a mahout home stay project and fertiliser or paper manufacture from elephant dung), in order to provide a financial alternative to begging, which will allow the elephants to stay on their home ground in the future.
Last week, in Bangkok, a book launch was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on behalf of the ‘Bring the Elephant Home’ foundation …finally, Antoinette’s ‘The Great Elephant Escape’ has been translated from the original Dutch and has been published!
The book describes the liberation of two elephants and their journey with Antoinette and her Thai team to the Elephant Nature Park. That journey turned out to be a breathtaking adventure through the world of flirtatious elephant traders, poor villagers, well-wishing monks and angry animal rights advocates, towards Elephant Haven on the far horizon, and includes photographs by Liesbeth Sluiter, a journalist and photographer with a keen interest in environmental issues.
‘The Great Elephant Escape’ will be reviewed, hopefully, in next week’s Chiang Mai Mail, together with an interview with the author.
At the beginning of this year, in recognition of her work, Antoinette was presented with the Terre des Femmes 2009 award for her ‘Trees for Elephants’ project. This annual award is given by the Yves Rocher Foundation to women who are working with inspiring environmental projects. With the award came the very welcome sum of 5,000 euros, which will be used to plant more trees in Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary to create a diverse habitat for the 174 elephants to whom the sanctuary is home.

 

Statins - do they help or do they harm?

CMM reporters
For some years now, statins have been hailed as a new wonder drug which lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, thus reducing the likelihood of fatty deposits in the bloodstream causing heart attacks and strokes. Two new studies, however, may tell a different and alarming tale, challenging the convention that lowering cholesterol levels is always beneficial.
Given that a number of women readers of this column may be troubled by high blood pressure, and may have been prescribed statins as a result, it might be a good idea to occasionally follow up this issue with a quick Google search!
The research, recently published in the respected journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, would seem to indicate that too low a level of cholesterol may affect intelligence, cause depression, poor memory and nightmares, and even raise the risk of suicide. The studies’ results add to an increasing volume of evidence that low cholesterol may be as dangerous to health as the high readings against which statins are intended to protect.
Cholesterol is also produced in the human brain, and is essential to the release of neurotransmitters, which carry messages from cell to cell. One study, carried out at Iowa State University, found that statins, by lowering cholesterol levels in brain cells, disrupted the release of neurotransmitters, causing reduced intelligence and poor memory.
The results from the Iowa State study reinforced another new study, carried out at the Geisinger Research Institute, involving 4,500 Vietnam War veterans over a period of 15 years. The men were separated into two groups, one with a combination of low cholesterol and depression; the other with depression but normal cholesterol levels. The recently released results indicate that men with a combination of depression and low cholesterol readings are 7 times more likely to die prematurely from non- natural causes than men who suffer depression alone.
Scientists at the institute believe that low blood cholesterol may be linked to an insufficient supply of serotonin, the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemical. A low serotonin level is believed to cause depression, anger, poor sleep patterns and other psychological problems which could possibly result in suicide.


Gender Justice and Women’s Human Rights seminar offers challenging ideas

Elena Edwards
An interesting report, first aired in The Nation coincidental with International Women’s Day, examines how the Thai legal system seem to still be slanted away from women’s rights in the broadest, most relevant sense.
At a recent seminar entitled, ‘Gender Justice & Women’s Human Rights’, an eminent speaker from the National Counter-Corruption Commission, Professor Wicha Mahakhun, stated that, “The exploitation of women’s bodies through human trafficking is one of the most serious issues the world faces today.”
Prof. Wicha went on to note that the Thai justice system is disadvantageous to women, and that, in his opinion, cases involving women should be considered on an individual basis, with contributing causes such as poverty, access to information and inequality being taken into consideration. He also observed that sexist attitudes still prevail on the legal access front, with female officers being relegated to secretarial positions under their male equivalents, and recruitment being influenced by women’s attractiveness or lack of it.
The glass ceiling is being kept intact, claims Prof.Wicha, by unconsciously discriminatory gender-based attitudes by those in authority - for example, the perception that certain types of work are too ‘tough’ for women to undertake.
This, the 11th annual seminar in the series, was jointly organised by the Foundation of Women, Law and Rural Development (FORWARD), Chiang Mai University’s Women’s Studies Centre, Rabibhadanasak Judicial Research Institute, the Thailand Criminal Law Institute, the Office of the Attorney General, and sponsored by Norwegian Association of Women Jurists/NORAD/FOKUS. Its aim was to inform nationwide members of the judiciary system of the views of feminists concerning the Thai legal system.
FORWARDS’s president, Assoc. Prof. Virada Somsawasdi, a law professor who founded the first Women’s Studies Centre in Thailand in1986, invited Thai judges and justice workers to question whether relevant laws perpetuate or eliminate gender bias; whether the state is really neutral in issuing laws, or whether so-called ‘fair judgements’ are based on a male-dominated thinking process.
Virada is also requesting the launch of a Gender Justice Network, and a national award to honour those who are fighting for women’s rights. Virada also pointed out that Sithisakdi Vanachakij, chairman of the Justice of Appeal Court of Law had noted that the 2007 Domestic Violence Act, although introduced with the best of intentions, had numerous loopholes.
She also stated that there are far too few female investigators, and that women, of course, understand the sensitivity of these issues to the women and children involved. In many cases, the perpetrators, rather than the victims, are gaining advantages from the new law.
According to Assistant Prof. Suchada Taweesit of Mahidol University’s Population and Social Research Institute, the Human Trafficking Act was written with the belief that prostitution was undertaken by women solely as a way out of poverty. The free will of any woman’s choice, and the reality that the majority of women who entered the trade were victims, either of circumstance or of illegal coercion, was perhaps not considered.
Shalardchai Ramitanond, of Chiang Mai University’s Women Studies Centre, considered that, “In order to understand unprecedented events in modern Thai society, we cannot stick to old ways of thinking - new paradigms and analytical tools are needed. For the environment, for example, there is sustainability theory, while in development there are several alternative theories. For the legal system, however, a new paradigm has yet to be considered.”
Judge Suntariya Muanpawong, of the Judicial Training Institute, supported her point, replying that, “A new paradigm is vital because numerous limitations exist in the system. For instance, a rigid hierarchy of seniority hinders the open-forum development of fresh ideas, and in many cases judges are biased, not because of corruption but because they lack a ‘gender-equality lens.
“There is also the problem that many people still misinterpret the feminist viewpoint as promoting privileges for women. In some countries, law students are given time in jail cells to get first-hand experience of the justice system’s workings. Perhaps role-play and case studies as offered in workshops would be helpful tools in understanding gender inequality.”