Thailand lacks consistent records or accessible data when it comes to women’s rights issues. One of the most pressing topics in women’s rights – sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) – has little to no publicly accessible data, which is fundamental for organizations, government and stakeholders to effectively tackle these issues.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has always been a long-standing problem in Thailand. In research conducted by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Thailand ranked as one of the most prevalent countries for violence against women, with women being sexually abused, whether physically or mentally, at a rate of more than 7 people a day, and with 30,000 complaints filed on sexual violence and requests for recovery treatment each year. It is also a trend that is worsening. In 2017, the cases of violence against women and intimate partners were recorded at 34.6% and by 2020, this increased to 42.2%.
We also know that we are not seeing the full picture of the problem. The sexual and gender-based violence data cited is expected to be grossly underestimated. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) outlined that around 87% of SGBV cases go unreported in Thailand, and in fact, outdated UNFPA statistics from two decades ago are still being circulated and used as a reference. For marginalized women in particular, such as women inmates, women with disabilities, women from diaspora communities, and transgender and queer women, the data on their gender issues simply does not exist.
There is no official survey on sexual violence in Thailand. NGOs and governmental organizations have been conducting their own research, which are not always consistent, accessible, and communicated to the wider public. The scarcity of SGBV data makes it difficult for any organization, development project, or institution to get accurate information to understand aspects of women’s rights issues in the country. For practitioners on the ground, the availability and accessibility of data are the most basic foundation and first necessary building block to understanding and then addressing the issues. Without the data, funding, activity design, and monitoring and evaluation processes can never be entirely effective.
Impacts of limited data for policy
For policymaking, not having data on gender means the legal system and policies, whether for the country or a company, can never take the first step to be fully inclusive and gender-sensitive. Clear data allows different stakeholders to recognize, address and respond to the actual issues by rolling out new policies and laws, or adjust existing ones to improve the situation. Without data, advocacy for policy and legal changes on gender also lacks rigor.
Gender data also plays a crucial role in not just the design, but also the decision-making process in distribution of resources and budget allocation, especially from the government. Last year, the Department of Women's Affairs and Family Development received over THB 460 million for their annual budget, in a striking contrast with approx. THB 31 billion for the Office of the Prime Minister. If we dig deeper, only THB 36,700 from that budget is allocated for all sex workers’ support per province.
Additionally, it is almost impossible to raise the public’s awareness of the issues if there is no accurate and coherent data available to share. For any social change to happen, accessing and communicating data is crucial. By having scattered, inconsistent sexual violence data that is inaccessible to the public, it is almost impossible to convince any stakeholders to acknowledge and address the gender issues. However, digestable data effectively communicated through the right medium will help generate broad awareness and a critical dialogue that can help convince the public and any stakeholders to engage in pursuit of positive change.
Digging deeper into Thai culture and the data void
There are many potential causes why the sexual violence situation in Thailand is a data black hole. One of the reasons the country does not have data in the first place is because cases mostly go unreported. This is due to a web of several factors, such as the lack of confidence in the country’s juridical system, police not pursuing the case, and reporting the crime would bring blame to the survivor. Additionally, the public’s perception of SBGV also contributes to the lack of data. It is assumed that SGBV isn’t a public issue, but rather a personal one in Thai culture. That means people need to draw a clear line between private and public affairs. In many cases, the saying 'เรื่องของผัว-เมีย คนอื่นอย่ามายุ่ง' (‘it’s a husband’s and a wife’s business, others should not intervene’) is still widely believed and shared.
Thai culture also trivializes sexual violence. There have been rampant sexual violence depictions in everyday news headlines and soap operas. In fact, in early 2021, #ข่มขืนผ่านจอพอกันที (#NoMoreRapeOnScreen) became the trending hashtag in Thailand on Twitter as people called out the Thai television industry for the depiction and romanticization of sexual violence that reinforces a rape culture.
Looking at education, no adequate sex education is in place to teach students to recognize different forms of SGBV situations that could happen to them or people they know, and what to do about it. This makes it extremely difficult for the country to have SGBV data if survivors or people around them do not recognize what SGBV actually is.
Fortunately, different NGOs and CSOs (civil service organizations) have been conducting research on women’s issues in Thailand independently. Some local NGOs, such as the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, collected their data by manually browsing through local newspapers in order to get a better understanding of circumstances on rape, sexual assaults and other violence against women issues in Thailand. One Stop Crisis Centers (OSCC), which is a hospital unit that provides comprehensive services for victims of violence in Thailand across Bangkok and provincial areas of Thailand, are also the front line of handling SGBV cases and records. However, the problem ensues when data is scattered and stored separately, as these organizations usually lack resources and capacity to focus on publicizing and communicating their data.
Small steps in the right data direction but a long path ahead
Despite the data void, the future is more hopeful with some small shifts to the data ecosystem on SGBV. Smaller, emerging organizations and collectives specifically focusing on data, such as Femnimitr, have consolidated and publicized a small amount of accessible SGBV data to the public, generating some conversation on gender data issues.
“There are gaps in gender-disaggregated data in Thailand that severely affects policymaking. The country lacks gender-disaggregated data on a national level, and policy making; as a result, it tends to be gender-blind,” Chertalay Suwanpanich, Femnimitr’s co-founder explained. “The effort from the Femnimitr collective is to collect and systemize scattered data and present it in a way the public can easily understand, with the goal in mind that once the public is interested in the issues, government agencies that are responsible will start to do something more, as they should.”
It’s still a long way to go for the country to tackle SGBV issues that are so deeply rooted in Thai culture and society. However, having solid data as the country’s priority in addressing SBGV will be a significant first step on the path towards social change.
Jirada Phetlam is a Chevening scholar taking MSc Gender at London School of Economics and Political Science. She also co-founded and acts as a program manager for Femnimitr, a local collective consisting of socially committed youths with a mission to drive a creative gender dialogue for policy change in Thailand.
The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung