BANGKOK, Thailand – On 25 September 2019, Manushya Foundation and the Indigenous Women’s Network of Thailand (IWNT), in partnership with the Canadian Embassy under the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, convened the launch of the community-led and participatory research report “Raising Our Voices To Save Our Future” to present key findings on indigenous women’s human rights in Thailand. Based on a community-led investigation by 13 indigenous women groups, the launch was a unique opportunity to discuss evidence-based key challenges for indigenous human rights in the fields of citizenship, health care, land-related rights and the adverse effects of tourism.
With around 60 people in attendance at the Residence of the Canadian Ambassador and with 6 panellists directly involved with the development of the report and from indigenous communities, the discussions provided an opportunity to amplify indigenous women’s solutions by letting their own voices to be heard, expressing and sharing real testimonies of the key human rights challenges in their communities and the key findings and recommendations of the research project. The report reflects Manushya Foundation’s and IWNT’s wider aim to strengthen the Indigenous Women’s Human Rights Defenders Network in Thailand and empower indigenous women so that they can assert their rights through evidence-based advocacy and through dialogue with the government and stakeholders. Through human rights fact-finding missions, data collection and investigation of rights, credible evidence is built to ensure indigenous peoples are at the centre of human rights responses and can be their very own agents of change, contributing to the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in Thailand.
In opening remarks, H.E Donica Pottie, the Canadian Ambassador, highlighted the position of indigenous women as being frontline defenders of land rights and the rights of their communities to secure economic well-being. The evidence presented in the report shows that while there are still serious gaps that need to be addressed, good practices which improve the lives of indigenous peoples have been implemented in Thailand, and part of this is attributable to the strong advocacy by the indigenous women. As Ms. Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director of Manushya Foundation, and different panellists also pointed out, this is remarkable, especially when considering that indigenous women carry the double burden of human rights abuses and marginalization. Being women and indigenous peoples, ‘they live the struggle within the struggle’.
H.E Ambassador Donica Pottie, Embassy of Canada to Thailand
“When we look for policy solutions, we need to look at the positive steps and give credit where credit is due. There have been positive developments at the community and national level. One good practice highlighted is that the district office in Chiang Mai has successfully tackled language barriers, by employing local indigenous community members to act as translators. And this is the first guarantee for better health care.”
Kanlaya Chularattakorn, Manager, Indigenous Women Network in Thailand
“This is the first time that there is an opportunity to work on our issues, in our own area, as indigenous women in Thailand. Talk about our problems, our challenges, and suggestions of ways to solve these challenges. This is the first time we gather situations and evidence to prove our claims. It is a big learning step for us… This report is our pride.”
"This project aims at creating evidence so strong that they will be able to do proper evidence-based policy advocacy. So this is really what the project is about, to empower indigenous women, to make them their own agents of change, who present their own solutions to the government, with credible evidence so that nobody is able to discredit them and they will be able to discuss policy change with the government and stakeholders.”
Emilie Pradichit, Founder & Director, Manushya Foundation
Difficulties in accessing Citizenship & Discrimination in accessing Healthcare services
Within this framework, the first session covered the critical issue of citizenship rights, which most indigenous peoples lack due to the lack of constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples in Thailand, resulting in high levels of statelessness. People on the panel, directly witnessing this critical issue in the North of Thailand, referred to inadequate attention from the local authorities, coupled with corruption and bribes imposed on indigenous peoples who seek citizenship, failing to acknowledge and solve barriers of illiteracy, geographical distances and lengthy citizenship and birth registration procedures, which has resulted in many indigenous peoples being stateless.
From left to right:
Sumit Wophapho, Senior Advisor at Plan International “Despite laws addressing statelessness today there are still so many stateless people here. You will understand why. In each law, there are restrictions about who is eligible. These conditions are complicated, people have to go through this process, but people cannot access the process in reality.”
Piboon Tuwamonton, Omkoi indigenous community leader and IWNT volunteer
“One of the problems is related to administrative procedures. About 20/30 percent of leaders in Omkoi cannot read and write in Thai and that inability makes it impossible to engage in citizenship requests.”
These vulnerabilities were also recognised during the following session related to discrimination faced by indigenous peoples, especially women, in accessing health care services. Living in remote areas, they lack adequate medical equipment or public transportation to access health care services. Economic deprivation, language barriers as well as discrimination and health authorities’ limited knowledge of traditional medicine, obstruct their right to fair treatment even when they manage to reach hospitals.
Amporn Pripanasumpun, IWNT member “The Thai government still does not accept our knowledge on medicine and the role of midwives. When women have to perform labour, they face verbal bullying when they go into labour inside the hospital. On many occasions both mom and baby die because they don’t receive enough assistance – in our villages no one dies of labour.”
On both grounds – citizenship and health care – indigenous peoples have pointed out the need for the government to seriously address these issues, improving facilities and administrative services, and acknowledging rather than disregarding the cultural, geographical and economic specificities of indigenous communities.
Indigenous women in Frontlines of defending their ancestral lands
The discriminatory approach of the government towards indigenous peoples discussed in the first two sessions were raised in the third and fourth sessions, where indigenous land rights and tourism were discussed. With a series of different case studies in the Phuket region, indigenous experts showed that there is an urgency to respect and acknowledge indigenous peoples’ right to land and property, ensuring the basic right to a dignified life and safe home. For instance, In Sapum village, the Urak Lawoi indigenous peoples living there are facing threats of land eviction by the Maritime department of Thailand. Indigenous communities too often are manipulated by the government and the business sector for their own personal interests, relying on weak land title laws and the indigenous peoples’ limited avenues of appeal. Testimonies by Mr. Samphan Naksueb during the launch have emphasised the positive effects of empowering communities to advocate for their rights, with the successful example of a court ruling won by the indigenous peoples against business men over indigenous lands in the Koh Sireh Island, Phuket province.
Emilie Pradichit, Founder and Director, Manushya Foundation – "In the tradition of indigenous peoples, they maintain a profound spiritual relationship to their ancestral lands and natural surroundings that is linked with their identity. It is part of their culture, their traditional ways of living. In that, indigenous women have a particular role because they are the main food producers, natural resources management experts and transmitters of indigenous culture and knowledge. However, indigenous peoples are the most at risk of threats, intimidations, killings and enforced disappearances, fighting to protect their ancestral lands, as we’ve witnessed in the case of ‘Billy’.”
From left to right:
Samphan Naksueb, indigenous community member of Koh Sireh Island – “This case should be a model in our fight to show that we can win a court case to win our motherland. But still our fight continues, we struggle on legal issues, we would like to have lawyers to assist so that we can evoke land titles that investors have and to have community land titles issued to the community so that we can be protected in the future.”
Katima Leeja, IWNT Committee Member, “The Forest Act (1941), alongside others, is often used to determine or deny land and resources rights of indigenous peoples, as they often lived in forest areas. If we don’t comply, we are sued, and put in prison. So many villagers feel under threat and don’t want to fight back.”
Jitti Pramongkit, IWNT Committee member living in Sapum village – “We have been given the opportunity to tell our story, to people even outside Thailand. We cannot do this on our own, as we do not have money to do so & language barrier limits us. We are thankful for the organizations that have supported us.”
Impacts of Tourism on indigenous peoples
The negative consequences of the business sector were also discussed with reference to the rise of tourism around indigenous areas such as in areas near Chiang Mia. Issues related to youth and drugs, family problems and pollution of natural resources were named as some of the examples showing how the costs of tourism for indigenous peoples overweight the benefits.
Noraeri Thungmuangthong, Vice-Chair, Indigenous Women’s Network of Thailand – “Tourism comes with benefits but also challenges. Women equally receive the negative impacts but do not equally receive the benefits”
In closing, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit, Prominent Woman Human Rights Defender & Former Human Rights Commissioner at National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, emphasised the fragility of indigenous peoples – amongst the group of “Others” that are not accepted under the concept of “Thainess” – and the crucial need to remove stigma and discrimination against them. Indigenous women face significant challenges to their human rights and dignified livelihoods and their voices must be heard and taken seriously by the government and the general public.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, Prominent Woman Human Rights Defender & former Human Rights Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
“Lack of access to education, rights to work and right to land makes indigenous peoples more vulnerable. Some women have to work as sex workers so that their families can survive. They are more vulnerable and face more discrimination…I want to ensure and promote a network of women, who try to break their culture and traditional discrimination.”
The discussions and testimonies of this report launch brought unique insights into the lives and rights of indigenous women, who are constantly under threat. The first outcome is that indigenous women have amplified their voices, with panellists directly telling their stories and representing their communities. Alongside these stories, this report launch has promoted community-led and participatory research projects, where victims of human rights violations can become actors of change by engaging in fact-finding missions and human rights investigations on their own, with the support and guidelines of organizations such as Manushya Foundation and IWNT. Bringing together indigenous women’s voices alongside credible evidence and practical solutions, leads to real and meaningful change. By raising awareness of indigenous women’s challenges across Thailand and promoting government and human rights bodies’ responsibility to address them, Manushya Foundation and IWNT are committed to a sustainable future for indigenous peoples.
We would like to thank all the panellists present at the meeting, whose informed contributions are the first step to raising awareness, acknowledging and combatting indigenous peoples’ human rights violations in Thailand. We would also like to thank all indigenous women for their hard work in researching the key challenges their communities face and for coming together to let their voices be heard. Special gratitude is given to IWNT for its partnership in the community-led and participatory research report “Raising Our Voices to Save our Future”, whose key insights on challenges and solutions have been valuable for advocating for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. Finally, we are grateful for the financial contribution by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives and Mama Cash that has allowed this report to take form.
For more information on indigenous peoples’ rights download the report “Raise Our Voices to Build Our Future”.
Access pictures of the event at the following link.
Read the media coverage by Reuters:"Is your Thai holiday resort built on indigenous land?"