Yingluck and Thailand’s women

Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP) has an interesting story on the implications of Yingluck’s election for women in Thailand. Some of the NGO and academic reactions are not so positive:

“How can we be proud? The whole world knows it’s about Thaksin,” said Sutada Mekrungruengkul, director of the Gender and Development Research Institute (GDRI) of Thailand.

“Compare that to Aung San Suu Kyi who has struggled for 20 years and is still not the prime minister of Myanmar,” she told AFP, referring to the neighbouring country’s democracy icon who is marginalised by the military.  …

Yingluck “never said a single word about women’s rights promotion during her campaign,” said Sutada of GDRI.

“We have a lot of women’s issues in Thailand, particularly violence against women and discrimination against women,” she said, adding that the vast majority of Thailand’s 32 million women lived in poor or rural areas.

And then this from Chiang Mai University:

“She might have the anatomy of a woman, but she thinks like a man and I don’t think she will do anything extraordinary for women,” said Arpaporn Sumrit, a lecturer at the Women’s Studies Centre at Chiang Mai University.

Chris Baker provides some useful regional context:

While blood ties were key to her candidacy, Yingluck is actually following a tried-and-tested formula of combining the political power of her family name with her feminine attributes, said Thailand analyst and author Chris Baker.

Indira Gandhi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Corazon Aquino of the Philippines are just a few examples of the women who have followed in the footsteps of male relatives.

“It’s a very, very powerful formula in Asia. We’ve seen it time and time again,” said Baker.

I came out looking rather positive:

“There is no doubt that Yingluck Shinawatra won this election because she is Thaksin’s sister,” said Andrew Walker, an expert on Thai politics at the Australian National University Canberra.

Yet the 44-year-old businesswoman and mother-of-one defied sceptics who thought her novelty value would soon wear off.  …

“Thailand is a society in which women often play a very active role in the social and economic life of their communities, but political leadership, locally and nationally, has been dominated by men,” said Walker.

“Many women, young and old, will be delighted and inspired by Yingluck’s dramatic rise to the top.”

In my “email interview” with AFP I provided some additional comments which may be of interest to some New Mandala readers:

There is no doubt that Yingluck Shinawatra won this election because she is Thaksin’s sister. Personally she performed very effectively in the campaign but she would never have been selected to lead Pheua Thai, nor would she have captured the electorate’s imagination so effectively, if it wasn’t for the political charisma of her older brother. But having a women in Thailand’s top job does have its own significance. It is a powerful symbol of new types of power and influence that have emerged in Thailand over the past decades of economic growth and cultural modernisation.  Thai politics has been dominated by men, a good number of them in uniform, and for a very long time the king has embodied ultimate political power in Thailand. Prime Minister Yingluck’s youthful femininity is a clear sign that Thailand’s traditional power alignments are changing.  Many women, young and old, will be delighted and inspired by Yingluck’s dramatic rise to the top. Thailand is a society in which women often play a very active role in the social and economic life of their communities, but political leadership, locally and nationally, has been dominated by men. It’s rare to find a village head in Thailand who is a woman, despite the fact that it is often women who are the backbone of local organisations. With Yingluck Shinawatra as Prime Minister, more women may be encouraged to channel their very considerable social and cultural capital in political directions.