Women’s Safety and My Bangkok Experience

I was excited when I got an offer to work in Bangkok for three months. But there were apprehensions too, of moving to another big city, as my earlier experience of living in Delhi had not been too flattering. Eve-teasing; an euphemism for sexual harassment or molestation of women by men in public is a common phenomenon in South Asia and unfortunately, even the authorities are quite lax about addressing the issue. Once, in Delhi, when I found myself the target of unwanted attention, I sought help from a police officer. He however refused to assist me, stating that he was not responsible for the area! That made things clear to me that in Delhi, I was responsible for my own safety. Would Thailand be any different?

At the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, the taxi driver muttered something in Thai, when I gave him the address of the apartment I was to stay in. That got me worried and my concerns heightened when the taxi eventually turned into a narrow, dark lane in a dimly lit neighbourhood and some people peevishly peered into the car. The place was akin to Malviya Nagar in New Delhi where eve-teasing is a regular occurrence, but my fears were unfounded.

My neighbours assured me a million times that the area was safe at all times, even at night and in my short stay in Bangkok, I found this to be true. I often saw motorbikes zipping through the streets, mostly with female passengers sitting behind uniformed men and women with security numbers patched onto their dresses.It was a relief for me to always see women queuing up to ride with the motorbikes outside the Bangkok Mass Transit System stations. Traffic guards and police were omnipresent and approachable. At times, when I lost my way while trying to find an unfamiliar place, there were always other women in public spaces in the early hours.Taxis were always on the streets as well, making it easy for women to secure a ride at any hour; as added security the drivers had their profile details hanging from the front seat.It was during these times that a constant thought crossed my mind; perhaps India’s Look East policy could well incorporate some of the significant steps that its near neighbour has taken to improve security and safety for women.

An example is the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority’s “Orange your  journey campaign”, which was supported by UN Women and encouraged passengers to report verbal assaults.The authority also initiated the “Pine Apple Project”, training staff to better understand sexual harassment and the tools that can be used to tackle it.Bangkok also has one stop crisis  centres, which provide psychological assistance and free medical services as well as legal advice. Staffed with nurses and doctors, they also have agents from the Royal Thai Police, the Office of the Attorney General,the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, as well as NGOs and emergency shelters. These centres provide psychological assistance and free medical services as well as legal advice.At the national level, Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security also runs a 24-hour online service called “Prachabodhi” that has been widely advertised and offers holistic assistance to women of all nationalities suffering from violence.

Often debates concerning women’s safety and empowerment in India fade out within the vast gap that lies between traditional and modern society. Due to increasing international media attention, India, to some extent, has been able to bring the issue of women’s rights to the fore. But there still remains a lot to be accomplished in this area. Eliminating gender discrimination and preventing violence and harassment of women in public spaces, would require political will and great perseverance by civil society. But as Bangkok shows, it can and it must be done.

Ms Pratibha Singh is a researcher and writer on women and conflict in South Asia. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt, Germany. A version of this article appeared in the website of AsiaPacific in October 2015

Original Source: Salute India Magazine



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