Human Development Index/Wellbeing Thailand

The Human Development Index (HDI)  originated in reports by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Originally developed and implemented by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990 “to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people-centred policies”(Haq,1990). The HDI focuses on measuring education, life expectancy and per capita income. So countries where people live long and happy lives, are well educated and have a comfortable standard of living tend to score the highest. Thailand currently has a score of 0.74 placing it at 87 out of all 188 countries measured making it a top scoring country. In 1990 Thailand had a score of 0.54, this means that Thailand has achieved an increase of almost 29 percent since 1990 and the last HDI report in 2015. The mean years of schooling increased by 3.3 years, life expectancy at birth also increased by 4.3 years, and there has been a huge increase of 121.2 percent regarding the GNI per capita. The Inequality-adjusted HDI helps to focus on and brings into account all the inequalities in all three areas; inequality is something that the standard HDI fails to reveal. When the Inequality-adjusted HDI in taken into account Thailand’s score falls to just 0.54, resulting in a 20 percent loss. This is, however, the average for high scoring HDI countries.(HDI report,2016)

 

The Happy Planet Index was conceived by and carried out by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in 2006.As opposed to the HDI the HPI focuses more on sustainability. The HDI report of a country may only reveal the GDP and solid figures relating to standard development but not on sustainable development or the effects on the environment. Countries that leave small ecological footprints score significantly higher than those that leave large ones. The HPI also takes into account the happiness of people and believes that the usual ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy(Sen,1999).Thailand measures very well on the Happy Planet Index with a score of 37.3, placing the country at 9th place of all 140 countries that were measured. The life-expectancy of people in Thailand is currently 74.5 years, with people having a wellbeing of 6.3 out of 10. Thailand scored 2.7gha/p(global hectares per person) for their ecological footprint and achieved  a score of 15 percent for inequality. Thailand has scored very well on the HPI, making it into the top 10 of all countries measured. The HPI does not take into account human rights abuses, however, although some figures may reflect this. The HPI has also been criticized as an effective tool for measurement as there is too much focus on happiness, something which is subjective and personal and the parameters for which change with each perspective culture.(Happy Planet Index,2017)

 

The GDP of Thailand currently represents 0.66 percent of the economy of the world which is worth 406 billion USD. The GDP growth rate was showing a downward trend over the last few years due to political turmoil but now is on the rise again due to some sense of political stability. (Trading Economics,2017)

 

Thailand scored significantly higher on the HPI compared to the HDI. This is due to the focus on sustainability, environmental impact and ‘happiness’. There are major merits to both of these measurements as well as numerous ways that they fall short and fail to see the whole picture. The HPI does not take into account human rights abuses which are a major issue, particularly in Thailand. Human rights abuses do effect the figures to a degree such as the scores for wellbeing and equality. They do not, however, have much to do with life expectancy or Thailand’s ecological footprint. Sen Amartyas statement about the primary focus of people is their wish to be happy over wealth is very accurate. (Sen,1999)  If people were offered to be happy or wealthy, they would more often than not choose to be happy. Most people believe that wealth is the vehicle that leads to happiness. Happiness is hard to quantify, as it is not a concrete figure and means something different for everyone. In either case, Thailand is on a positive trend, and as long as there is no more political unrest, the country can look forward to both financial security and happiness.

 

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Development Traps in Thailand

The kingdom of Thailand,(formerly Siam) also known as the land of smiles is a hot, humid country located centrally in the  Indochinese Peninsula. Currently, the nation Is a constitutional monarchy and has suffered political turmoil for years, switching between parliamentary democracy and military Junta at various points. The latest coup was in 2014 led by Prayut Chan-o-cha leader of the National Council for Peace and Order and the current prime minister.(NESDB 2014) The Thai economy ranks amongst some of the worlds highest, ranking 20th by GDP and PPP.  Thailand is considered to be an emerging economy with it being listed as a newly industrialized country. This means that the country has outpaced its developing counterparts, but has not as of yet in a macroeconomic sense reached the economic level of a fully developed country(ONESD 2013).Thailand is one of the ‘tiger cub economies’ along with Indonesia, Philipines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. These are the five dominant countries in Southeast Asia. The name ‘tiger cubs’ comes from the four ‘asian tigers, namely: Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. These are the four countries with the highest developed free market economies in Asia. The ‘tiger cubs’ attempt to follow the same export driven and developed economies of the ‘Asian tigers.’ (Asian Market Research 2013). Thailand has come a long way and overcame much political and economic turmoil for the country to be where it is now. The World Bank recognized Thailand as “One of the greatest development success stories” in social development indicators.(World Bank 2012). Thailand has now however reached a standstill as Thailand is facing a number of development traps.

 

Development traps are common in developing countries , and according to Paul Collier,  it is where they ‘ got caught in one or other of the traps’ that can impede development.(Collier 2008). It can be seen in a country such as Thailand that it is not any one development trap alone that has held Thailand back but rather the interconnectedness of a number of traps working together to suppress growth. Issues such as poverty, governance, geography, demography, and conflict. Many of the poverty traps are  interconnected for example when it comes to the demographics of a country it shows the relationship between poverty and fertility has much to do with ‘trapping a country’ in poverty. A high population growth leads to deeper poverty, and deeper poverty contributes to higher fertility rates. (Sachs 2005) Therefore countries are left with both high mortality rates and are unable to feed the children sufficiently that they do manage to have. The demographic trap comes into play because of the geographical trap which shows how a countries geographical locations affect it in a number of ways. This can be seen when a country may be landlocked and must rely on neighbouring countries for dealing in the overseas trade. Even if a country is not landlocked, then there is still the issue of living in a very hot environment as Kay said in 2003 ‘productive economies are cooler … there are no rich states in the tropics’.(Kay 2003) This is due to a number of reasons such as how the chance to efficiently farm is seriously diminished due to the bacteria in the soil working faster. People working in hot climates also face a number of diseases and even if they are unaffected they still have to work in the hot and humid location of their country. It is proven that human productivity declines as heat rises.

 

 

Thailand has met many of these development traps in a number of ways. Due to political unrest and the coups in 2006 and 2011.The GDP growth was brought down for years and was therefore the country was unable to develop many initiatives that were planned during those times. There was also the ‘rice scandal’ between 2011 and 2014 which severely affected farmers. With 40% of the Thai GDP being contributed by agriculture this was a harsh blow for Thailand. This, in turn, led to another coup which affected economic growth even further. It shows that poverty traps in Thailand lead to governance and conflict traps which affected the poorest in society even further. Some of the  people that suffered most were the farmers in Isaan for example,Isaan is  known as the least developed part of Thailand. The farmers in Isaan were already suffering from poverty, geographical and demographics traps. Now the main development trap facing Thailand is the ‘middle-income trap, this is a term which has become popular over the last several years and refers to an invisible ceiling that developing countries often hit.(Tamaki Kyozuka 2016).In Thailand, this means that its wages have become too high for it to compete against other low wage, low-income nations. This, in turn, has led to low investments, slow growth, limited industrial versification and poor labor market conditions.(Wharton,2017).The government is planning to combat Thailand ‘middle-income trap with deep government investments and offer incentives in infrastructure in the hopes of luring foreign investment, thus leading to a range of top-down initiatives and ‘Thailand 4.0’. (Wharton,2017).

 

Thailand has been facing numerous development traps for years. There needs to be significant roles played by both the market and the state in Thailand to help people climb out of them. The movement towards Thailand 4.0 is a bold initiative by the government. Thailand 4.0 is an economic model without much basis on how to get over Thailand’s ‘middle-income trap.’ Thailand will need the support of foreign specialist to make 4.0 a reality. Professional associations in Thailand among others totally oppose this, however, wishing to keep professional jobs for Thais only. The state must also have much stronger anti-corruption policies, as corruption has plagued the country for years; holding the country back in numerous ways. The market also plays a vital role in helping people to escape these traps by ensuring the coordination of any innovation. Both the supply and the demand. As well as providing the opportunity cost of any action is not too high. People from all communities must also be able to access the market easily. Most importantly of all though people must have trust in the market, that is essential.

Brief Economic History of Thailand

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok “City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan), the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South, with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops, and tin. Thailand the “Land of the free” was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule, to one of self-sustained Democracy. Buddhism has supplied cognitive and evaluative elements that have been integrated into every aspect of Thai identity, even If the individual is Thai or part of a Thai ethnic minority. Thailand is an extremely hierarchal society, If you are born into a ‘High-so’  family – as they are typically referred to here – your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a ‘Low-so’ family. Individuals who are born into ‘High-so’ families often have a feeling of superiority over those that are born into ‘Low-so’ families.

 

 

 

Wetland agriculture has always played a significant role in Thailand’s economy. Known previously as Siam, Thailand opened to foreign contact in the pre-industrial era. Previously, Thailand was a feudal society mostly run by noble families. The Thai economy changed from one of subsidence to cash during the nineteenth century by the opening of the commercial rice market, during this time the power of the noble families was weakened as more rights were given to farmers by the King. (Jeffrey Hayes, 2008). Thailand slowly became one of the major trade hubs in Asia, mostly trading with Chinese merchants, many of whom migrated and attained high positions within the country. Later, deals with Europe increased, with treaties being created to guarantee the rights and privileges of European traders. Later amendments were made extending these opportunities to Americans also. Thailand’s economy eventually grew until it began to work on a global scale. During the time of the Vietnam war and the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Thailand began to grow at a level where the economy started to rival that of other developed nations such as Taiwan and South Korea. Growing steadily at eight percent per year between 1985 and 1995 and peaking at 13 percent in 1988. This growth continued until the great depression and then later the Asian financial crisis which originated in Thailand in 1997 because of the financial collapse of the Thai Baht. The crisis was the worst economic crisis ever to hit Thailand and was dubbed the Tom Yum Goong crisis (Spicy Shrimp Soup) due to the immense heat and stress that people felt at that time. There was action taken by many actors at the time, including the Thai monarchy. Bhumibol Adulyadej was the King at this time and had toured the country for years, especially in rural and impoverished regions such as Essan; considered to be the most impoverished region of the nation. King Bhumibol had significantly lectured on the benefits of following a sufficiency based economy. The focus being on an economy that would allow the Thai people to support themselves (UNDP report 2007). The sufficiency economy philosophy is made up of three main components these being: wisdom, moderation, and prudence. Sufficiency economy has much in common with Buddhist economics, a spiritual belief that gross national happiness is more important than gross domestic product. As Zsolnai Laszlo stated, Buddhist economics can be summed up as when “the marginal productivity of labor utilized in producing consumption goods is equal to the marginal effectiveness of the meditation involved in economizing on consumption without bringing about any change in satisfaction” (Zsolnai, Laszlo, 2011). The king among other members of the monarchy carried out a number of royal projects hoping to alleviate some of the effects of the Tom Yum Goong crisis.

 

 

Thailand’s focus for the next few years was recovery. After facing a number of natural disasters and political turmoil, Thailand was on its way to recovery. This was what led to the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and his policy which was later named ‘Thaksinomics’ which had a focus on promoting greater infrastructure and development in rural Thailand. Thaksin was voted into office in 2001 and although the first year saw as little as 2.2 percent GDP growth, the following years saw positive growth from 2002-2004 with rates of 5.3, 7.1 and 6.3 (Aidan Jones, 2014). This again led to his party having another huge victory in 2005 where he was re-elected. There was much opposition to Thaksinomics amid reports of corruption, which later led to the military coup in 2006 while Thaksin was giving a speech at the United Nations general assembly in New York. This brought the GDP growth rate back down to 4.4 percent in 2006. Then in 2008, there was even more political turmoil between opposing groups, those who supported Thaksin and those who supported the leader of the military coup. The following years were filled with political and financial turmoil, never again having the steady growth of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thaksonomics. In 2011 Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected and was Prime Minister for a further three years until she was ousted in May 2014.The rice scheme was in many ways what led to her election in 2011 and subsequent removal in 2014. Yingluck promised to buy rice from Thai farmers at above market value. The rice was obtained and kept with the idea of selling it at the right time for a record profit. However, India then began to lift bans on rice exports as well as Vietnam lowering its costs of exports. Thailand could then not sell the rice that had been collected, and the rice started to deteriorate. There were immense amounts of rice in storage and Thailand was forced to sell it at a much lower price than intended. The total cost of the plan has been estimated at eight to twenty million dollars. The coup was led by military general Prayut Chan-o-cha who then established a Junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (Taylor, Adam; Kaphle, Anup 2014). Prayut is the current head of the NCPO and concurrently the Prime Minister of Thailand to this day.

 

 

 

It is clear that Thailand’s economic past has been littered with times of political unrest and financial turmoil. Thailand is a newly industrials country (NIC) and is not an entirely developed nation, yet has outpaced its other developing counterparts. With over 40 percent of Thais working in agriculture and 16 million rice farmers working in the country, it is essential that strong policies are put in place to support them. The tourism industry in Thailand is also almost double the world’s average. The average GDP contribution being 9 percent while Thailand is currently 17.7 percent. It is clear that Thailand also has a significant reliance on foreign investment. The ‘next step’ for Thailand as dubbed by the NCPO is Thailand 4.0. Thailand is currently in Phase 3.0 with Heavy-industry and energy accounting for around 70 percent of the Thai GDP. In the past, during Thailand 1.0 it was an agrarian economy. Then during Thailand 2.0, the focus was on light industry, textiles and food processing. Thailand 4.0 has three main principles:

  1. Make Thailand a high-income nation,
  2. Make Thailand a more inclusive society,
  3. Focus on sustainable growth and development.

Thailand 4.0 is an economic model without much basis on how to get over Thailand’s ‘middle-income trap.’ Thailand will need the support of foreign specialist to make 4.0 a reality. Professional associations in Thailand among others totally oppose this, however, wishing to keep professional jobs for Thais only. For the time being the Thai people must look towards the NCPO to lead them towards economic prosperity.

 

 

 

 

The modern Phu-Tai People and their dissipation of identity

Pla-Kaow-Mor-Lum-dancing-4.jpg

 

Chom Saenmit 88 years old look back to his youth with fondness. He remembers the year the school was built and he was enrolled in the first class of his village in Ban Na Bua. Chom is Phu-Tai, not to be confused the  Budai groups of Northern Vietnam and Southern China as they so often are. The current Phu-Tai residing in Thailand are the descendants of various  groups of Phu-Tai settlers who migrated from Kham Muam and Savannakhet during the 19th century. Chom recalls the time when his school first opened, the Phu-Tai people learned with their teachers speaking Laos at first, then Thai and finally Phu-Tai. The younger generations all speak Phu-Tai, even the youngest children have a knowledge of the language; thanks to the efforts of teachers like Ajarn Darang Lang the local Anuban teacher the language is being kept alive.

 

 

There has not been much of a decline in the number of speakers of Phu-Tai according to the research of William A. Smalley 2005 . That is not to say that the Phu-Tai language is not altered more each and every year in numerous ways. In the past Phu-Tai communities very much kept to themselves, married amongst themselves and held on to their inherent traditions.

 

 

 

Chom recalls a time when parents chose the partners for their children, a tradition common among many ethnic groups in Thailand’s past. This  kept the Phu-Tai community very closed off in the past, yet keeping their culture and customs very much intact. During the last hundred years however the Phu-Tai communities have become more and more integrated into greater Thai society. Phu-Tai people are free to marry who they will now, no matter their religious or cultural background. Chom told regrettably us of how his daughter has married a man from Phuket, she lives  there with him now and has even converted to Islam. Something which would certainly not have happened in the past. Cases like his daughters have of course made numerous changes to the Phu-Tai language. Even if Phu-Tai people are marring individuals who live nearby, they may not be Phu-Tai, they are more often than not in fact Thai. This is leading to more and more Thai words being assimilated into the Phu-Tai language.

 

 

 

 

Phu-Tai  are almost entirely Buddhist now, differing from most other branches of Tai ethnicity who very much keep to their own animistic and spiritual religious practices. The Phu-Tai people do however keep many of their spiritual and medicinal traditions alive by the use of mo yao healing. This is both a herbal and shamanistic form of healing. Most of the Phu-Thai communities still follow the practice but the younger generation specifically see little merit in it. There has been significant research into the effective of Mo yao healing by numerous anthropologists and Thai medical professionals . Most notably were several studies using both quantative and qualitive data into several Phu-Tai communities throughout Kalasin province. One such study was carried out by Mr.Thanyalux Mollerup which revealed the intricate relationship between the Phu-Tai people and Mo yao healing to still be very much alive, however it is now practiced in a very different way from when it once was. The research by Thanyalux also revealed how the Thai government healthcare system has taken place of Mo yao healing in most villages, as government healthcare programs reach even the most remote peoples now. Most of the reliance now tends to be on mental and non-physical forms of healing as these can often be put down to spiritual ailments. Mo yao healing is a major part of the traditional Phu-Tai lifestyle and if it is lost so too may their ethnic identity.

 

 

The Phu-Tai people have not entirely lost their identity, however. Another individual trying to keep Phu-Tai traditions alive is Mr.Jarook Saenmit, the deputy president of the thambon sub-district. Jarook has tried several approaches to keep the Phu-Tai cultural heritage alive. He told us of how even just 50 years earlier the area surrounding where we were interviewing him was once a forest. Ban Na Bua was once very much a forested region of Isaan. He told us of how people used stilts as a way to cross through the forests and avoid the mud and water. Jarook is attempting to revitalize Phu-Tai traditions by running various activities and workshops for the locals. Some of the activities include showing the children how to use the stilts, variations of Phu-Tai dancing and singing workshops, as well as weaving and numerous other traditional practices.  No one can be certain how the Phu-Tai people will have changed in another hundred years, nor how much of their cultural identity will have survived. We can, however, be confident that through the efforts of individuals like Mr.Jarook, not all of the  Phu-Tai heritage will be lost.

The Human Rights Abuses of migrant workers in Thailand-แรงงานข้ามชาติ

In Thailand, there are almost two million migrant workers, around eighty percent of them being Burmese. Many of the Burmese workers came in the eighties and nineties as Thailand experienced an economic boom having an average wage increase of eight percent per year. This was because the migrant workers would take up the jobs that many Thai people would not such as manufacturing and hard agricultural work. Many leave in the face of almost certain poverty for the chance of a better life. Upon arrival in Thailand, however, they face discrimination and human rights abuses daily, both from their employers and from the authorities that are supposed to be protecting them.

 

 

 

Migrant workers arrive in Thailand with the hopes of living a better life than the one that they left behind. Those hopes are often shattered in a concise time. Migrant workers are effectively tied to their employers, they are not able to find other work, and their company holds all their ‘legal’ paperwork. Not only this but authorities such as the police, military and even the immigration services that are supposed to be helping often abuse them, extorting them for money, threaten to kill them and can detain them without fear of reprisal. Common crime is another common factor which migrant workers fall victim to as they have few other that they can turn to with the authorities often looking the other way and are unwilling to help the workers. Numerous Inter-governmental organisations(IGO) have condemned Thailand’s discrimination and failure to protect its migrant worker population. This will be a paper to show what form of discrimination that the migrant workers in Thailand face as well as what discourse is used to justify their marginalised status as well as put forward suggestions of where NGOs and other organisations could intervene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Thailand has so many Burmese migrant workers

 

As was mentioned previously the majority of migrant workers arrive in Thailand with dreams of a better future for them and their families. In the case of the Burmese migrant workers, it is due closely to Thailand’s economic boom in the 1990s when the average salary was steadily increasing at eight percent per annum.(Arnold 2005).The reason that workers from Burma were so ready to come to Thailand was also the relatively lax borders and immigration at that time due to the ‘constructive agreement’ enacted by the Chatichai Choonhavan government. Streams of migrant workers from Burma began pouring into the Thailand. They started taking the manual jobs that the Thai people of the time detested such as agriculture, factory and domestic work. Thailand then began to rely on these workers, and they would do workers that locals refused to and were needed more than every especially during the time of the Asian economic crisis. With this reliance came more workers as many were escaping the violent repression during the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, and on-going military offensives by the ruling military regime against ethnic nationalities, hundreds of thousands of people have fled, and continue to flee across the border to Thailand. All workers who arrived in Thailand travelled without any documentation, leaving their own country illegally and also entering Thailand illegally.(Pollock 2006).Gender is another factor which comes into play which forces many women to leave Burma. There is little opportunity for females to have quality education in Burma, forcing them to take low-skilled labour work when they can. There is a great deal of sexual violence in Burma that women wish to escape, most notably in the Shan state.Migrant workers have the potential to make a considerable amount of money in Thailand in comparison to what they could make back home in Burma. They then make what they can and send it back to their families in Burma. Even though these jobs are often over ten hours a day, manual labour jobs seven days a week in terrible conditions; they come from extreme poverty in Burma and is their only possibility to make money (Rohan Radheya 2014).According to Grant: ” The more illegal a migrant, the greater is the danger of the journey, or of being exploited, or even enslaved by the trafficker or unscrupulous employers:.(Grant 2005)

 

 

 

Discrimination and human rights abuses faced by migrant workers in Thailand

 

Sometimes Burmese workers’ pay for their position to work in Thailand from Burma. Sometimes the employers from Thailand can pay an agent to find employees for them. Either way, the migrant worker is liable to face debt as the cost of coming to Thailand, and their position amounts to several months wages. This doubled with extreme interest keep the workers crippled, unable to leave and no one to lend aid as they cannot go to the authorities. Police can do as they will and have little fear that anything will happen to them. A witness told Human Rights Watch how two policemen kicked a Burmese boy to death. They spoke to him, but he did not and could not reply to them in Thai:

“Many Burmese were watching, and nobody went and helped because all of the people were afraid of that police, so nobody said anything about this killing, and nobody informed the police station,” said the witness. “When I saw this [killing], I felt that we Burmese people always have to be humble and have to be afraid of the Thai police. I feel that there is no security for our Burmese people [in Thailand] or for myself.”(HRW 2010)

The employers hold the worker’s papers if the worker has them at all. This means that they cannot approach authorities even if they were willing to take the risk, as they have no papers to prove their eligibility in Thailand. This also counts for all forms of healthcare and other institutions that they cannot have access to freely. In Thailand citizens currently pay thirty baht per month for their healthcare, and they are covered.Migrant workers, however, do not have this luxury however and if an accident should befall them in their poor working conditions, then there is no way to receive medical attention without getting further and even deeper into debt.Having little money and unable to find little in the way of medical treatment many workers find themselves with some long-lasting injuries or diseases; from broken hands that never healed properly to cancer and most notably HIV/AIDs. A number of aid projects have been put in place to help migrants with the HIV/AIDs problem such as The Prevention of HIV/AIDS among Migrant Workers in Thailand Program known as “PHAMIT,” was funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) with the aim to reduce new HIV infection among migrant workers in Thailand. The program started in 2003 and ended in 2008.  Migrants reported constant fear of extortion by the police, who demand money or valuables from migrants held in police custody in exchange for their release. It is not uncommon for a migrant to lose the equivalent of one to several months’ pay in one extortion incident..(HRW 2010).Migrant workers in Thailand are severely prohibited in their movement and from any form of trade unions or peaceful assemblies. They would immediately be shut down and arrested. Workers must stay in designated zones and not leave them; they risk being detained by authorities and further trouble with their employers. In some cases when workers are held by police, they are unable to pay the ridiculous fees demanded of them. The police then may ask their work friends, and if they do not have the money, they may have to ask their family member back in Burma. The very people that the workers came to Thailand to try and make money for to send back to them. Sex workers are routinely trafficked in and are often young, knowing little about where they are going. Sometimes even being sold by their own family members.

“All the other girls were crying all the time, but I just kept quiet because I thought to myself that if I cry they can kill me and if I don’t cry they can also kill me, so why should I cry? So I just prepared my heart to face whatever was going to happen, because I did not want to cry. I thought I was going to die.”

(Bee Komjamwong, 2008)

Workers also face conflict and abuse from other rival migrant worker groups such as Cambodian with registered work permits.They often abuse the Burmese workers as they are seen as below them.( Zaw Naing 2010). To be legally employed in Thailand, migrants need three documents from Thai authorities: a labour card, a medical treatment card and a certificate from the immigration bureau. These are issued a certificate provided by the employer. In practice, migrants pay about 20,000 baht (600 dollars) each to brokers to arrange these documents. ( Zaw Naing 2010)It is not impossible for workers to change their status from illegal to legal workers it is however extremely difficult.Due to the restriction’s  set on them, they can do little to save the vast sums of money needed to achieve legal status. Workers are severely limited in their movements with not being able to drive their own vehicles or even their employers.They are not allowed to travel without written permission given by the department of employment. This then leaves them at the mercy of Thai teenage gangs who may rob and beat them. Many police recruit migrant workers and recruit them as gang members to work on their behalf; this appeals to many workers as they are then under the protection of the police and if there are fights between the migrants which there often is the police will take their side. The worker then must act as a more mediate between the two factions when workers are imprisoned and such. The more they know however makes their position more precarious as they find out more their life gets put in even more danger. A number of these inside migrant workers have disappeared already (Saw Htoo 2008)  The media does little to help the plight of the migrant workers, the media has been promoting its mostly ethnocentric views since the 1990s.Along with this is the nationalistic school system in place in Thailand which portrays Burma as their old nemesis and little else.The idea of Burma being Thailand oldest enemy is shown throughout numerous modern Thai movies, where ancient Thai heroes valiantly defeat evil Burmese commanders and save the innocents.

“They don’t treat people well because they still view them as enemies,” said Tananart Sakolvittayanon, 22, a graduate of Thammasat University.

“We need to learn real history, not just history that they burned our city… This is the 21st century.” (Tang 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has been done to so far to aid the migrant workers in Thailand

 

Numerous Inter-governmental organisations have openly spoken out against Thailand and its human rights breaches. The International Labor Organisation(ILO) for example at the  State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) had been criticising the Royal Thai Government(RTG) and how Thailand takes care of its migrant workers, saying that Thailand was in deep breach of International law. Savit Kaewarn, General Secretary of SERC, today said:

 

“Migrants in Thailand continue to suffer systematic discrimination as they work hand in hand with Thai workers to develop our economy. Instead of integrating foreign workers into our society, the Thai government consistently denies them their most fundamental rights. SERC again calls on the Ministry of Labour and all other public bodies to eliminate all discriminatory policies and laws to ensure migrant workers gain the fundamental rights to which all ‘workers,’ regardless of their nationality and immigration status, are entitled to.”

In 2012 the labour minister Minister Padermchai Sasomsap came up with a plan to help  Thailand remove themselves from the  “Tier 2 watch list”.This is a list from the Us State Department that Tiers countries on their level of human trafficking and efforts to stop it. The Labor Prim Ministers plan was to send all women who were three to four months pregnant back to Burma.This would then stop children being brought up in the ‘shanty towns’ where the workers live and further contributing the awful record of migrant child labour in Thailand.( Prachatai 2012).There are numerous other ways to help alleviate the human trafficking problem in Thailand, not simple deporting the pregnant women. The children of migrant workers should be educated and learn in established schools. The corrupt official should have pressure put on them and more efforts made to help the victims of trafficking.(Adams 2012). There have been some volunteer teachers, but little else can be done until the authorities allow the workers to move more freely and engage in the social domain.

 

 

 

What NGOs could be doing to help alleviate the burdens that face the migrant workers in Thailand

There has been criticisms of the Thai government and its handling of migrant workers. There does have to be more done for the workers at a local level, however. Workers should have more help in obtaining there legal working status. Little can be done as they remain illegal workers. Without legal status, they cannot gain access to healthcare and education which is pivotal for the workers to improve their status.As migrant workers have been coming to Thailand for almost thirty thirty years now, many have had families and now have multiple generations living together in shanty towns. The children do not receive an education which continues the cycle. Workers need freedom of movement to be able to gain better employment and not be tied to their employers. Employers must be held accountable and must have contracts checked by governing bodies. This way employer will not be able to withhold the worker’s paper or hold them ransom.

 

 

 

 

There are rampant human rights abuses currently taken place against the migrant workers in Thailand. There is little regulation for the workers. There is also no reprisal against those who are discriminating against migrant workers and denying them their basic human rights. The workers live in squalid conditions and have little education; their children do not have legal status either and therefore will fall into the same life as their parents. The authorities which should be protecting migrant workers are in fact abusing them, leaving them not one to turn to but instead seeing them as easy victims. Migrants have little knowledge of their rights and no nothing of unionising or forming policy. The migrant worker’s countries of origins should have stronger liaisons with Thai authorities to ensure the rights of workers and that more solid borders are enforced, and corrupt officials brought to account to help stop human trafficking.

 

 

The Thai Bhikkuni and their role in promoting female empowerment in Thailand

 

The majority of people in Thailand are devout Buddhists, with over 95 percent of the country following Buddhism and its entailed traditions and practices. Buddhism therefore, of course, plays an integral part in the culmination of Thai cultural identity. Buddhism is a part of every aspect of life in Thailand, from giving alms in the morning to the monks and children saying Buddhist prayers in the morning and the majority of Thai men being a monk at least for a short period of their life; Buddhist traditions are seen and felt everywhere in Thai society; As is the presence of the male dominated monkhood.

 

As Thailand is heavily influenced by Buddhist values, the Buddhist monks are of course the curators of the religion. Thai monks are seen and felt everywhere with over 32,000 monasteries, 265,956 monks and 87,695 novices (Bangkok Post survey 2017).Monks take part in many official ceremonies daily throughout for example monks may bless a house or a new car, offer prayers at a wedding(Less than 100 years ago, this would never have happened as monks were seen as an ill omen, only to attending funerals): monks may offer prayers for a new business and any number of other occasions. Although monks are numerous in Thailand and come from a variety of social and economic backgrounds (Even the current King has ordained) they do have one thing in common, they are all male. Monks being the representatives of a religion which take part in every part of daily Thai life and they are all male, there is another group of individuals who also embody traditional Buddhist values, the ‘rebel monks’ the Thai Bhikkunni. The Bhiksunni are a group of female monks ordained in the Theravada tradition. Many Bhikkunni have faced opposition in Thailand, both from the male dominated Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand (Buddhist governing body in Thailand) and from laypeople (non-ordained individuals).  This paper will be an assessment of  role that men have in challenging gender equality, namely the male dominated Sangha in Thailand. It will discuss if it is more important for women to form their owns groups, or to work alongside with men. The gains that could  be made through gender equality  programmes targeting both men and women will be discussed as well as what may be appropriate or undesirable.

 

 

 

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh Shatsena now known as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was the first modern woman to receive full ordination in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism in Thailand. Born in 1944 Chatsumarn Kabilsingh Shatsena to Voramai Kabilsingh also known as Ta Tao Fa Tzu as she was ordained in the Dharmaguptaka  school of Buddhism and Kokiat Shatsena Chatsumarn has to lead a fascinating life and is now the abbess of  Songdhammakalyani Monastery, the only Bhikkunni temple in Thailand. Translated as the “temple where women uphold the Dharma”. Dhammanda Bhikkunni was ordained on 28 February 2003 in Sri Lanka after which she returned to Thailand.(Snyder, 2003). There has of course been much opposition to the Bhikkuni order in Thailand. Many Bhikku (Male monks) including the Ecclesiastical Council disagree with the ordination of Bhikkuni in Thailand believing their ordination to be illegitimate. According to Metthanando Bhikku a prominent monk in Thailand and member of the Ecclesiastical Council:”Equal rights for men and women are denied by the Ecclesiastical Council. No woman can be ordained as a Theravada Buddhist nun or bhikkhuni in Thailand. The Council has issued a national warning that any monk who ordains female monks will be severely punished.”( Metthanando Bhikku,2005).According to Buddhist historians, the original order of the Bhikkuni was set up several years after the Bhikku order at the request of Mahapajapati who was the Buddhas aunt and carer after the death of his mother and her followers. According to tradition, the Buddha denied her several times before allowing her to ordain.This was not however due to her gender but was in fact because they were courtly women used to the extravagances of palace life and would find the harsh lives of monks of that time a struggle. According to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni: “Many people in Thailand both monastics and laypeople do not realise that there has been Bhikkunni in the region before. According to Not many in Thailand understand Buddhism truly like when the Buddha first said no to his aunt and her followers when they asked to be ordained, this was not because of their gender, but because they were women of the court, they could not handle the conditions. Many forget that the Buddha was from a time when social values were different.”( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni 2017). Since the ordinations of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, a number of other Bhikkhuni have been ordained in Thailand now number numbering over 100 Bhikkhuni throughout Thailand.Not including the number of Sramaneris(Novices) and Mae Ji’s.

 

Due to the prohibition set by the Sangha, many Thai women instead volunteer to become Mae ji’s.Mae ji’s try to lead a devout life according to the Buddhas teachings, shaving their heads like monks and wearing white following 8-10 precepts(holy rules that must be followed) as opposed to the 331 precepts for Bhikkhuni and 227 for monks.Mae ji’s do not receive the benefits of monastics but are denied rights are are offered to lay people throughout Thailand such as being able to vote or stand for election. According to Dhammananda  Bhikkhuni Mae ji’s are a new concept and not part of traditional Buddhism: “I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate, and she was a Mae ji, yet when it came to praying she knew everything. She prayed beautifully.Mae Ji’s are not ordained, nor do they receive the benefits of being so.In fact, they are more often treated like servants, having to wash the monk’s clothes and cleaning. Look at the four pillars of the Buddhist community, like legs on a chair, The Bhikkus(monks) Bhikkhunis(nuns), Laymen and Laywomen.Mae Ji’s are a new concept”.Many Mae JI’s face discrimination throughout Thailand, not only do they not have the benefits offered to other monastics such as free transport, etc., many believe they become Mae Ji’s for the wrong reasons. Many Thai people look down on Mae Ji’s feeling that they had no other option, that they could not find a husband or are using the cloak of becoming a Mae Ji to escape other problems in their life.

 

Early every morning in Thailand the streets are lined with people throughout the country, waiting to give alms to the monks. This is part of the merit system in Buddhism which is believed to bring benefits to the next life. The alms givers are predominately women however, some folklore says that women are born with bad karma and must make more merit in this life to become a man in the next. In the same sense that transgender individuals are born in the wrong body due to transgressions in their previous life, this is not true to the Buddhas original teachings however . According to Buddhist tradition It is believed that everyone is born with both good and bad karma within them and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment. It is cultural , in that same sense the culture protects you.( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, 2017).It is not only in alms giving where women take the prominent role, also cleaning at the temple, washing , brushing and preparing for  the numerous religious festivals that take place all year round. Like the Mae Ji’s at temples many Thai women still take on the domestic responsibilities , even when it comes to religious duties. After offering alms and preparing comes the time for the religious ceremonies, this is a time when women do not take a prominent role. During religious ceremony the monks sit elevated, with the grandfathers and oldest men sitting closest to the monks, and then come the fathers and then the sons. At the back sit the women and daughters, even though the majority of alms giving  and preparation  for the ceremony was carried out by women, they sit furthest away from the monks and instead the men of the family take control of orchestrating the other attendees.History is written by by men, about men, so we start to write a story about women, from a woman’s- that is a different voice.( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, 2012).It is not only in alms giving where women take the prominent role, also cleaning. Perspective As was mentioned before, Buddhism is a significant part of Thai peoples cultural identity, yet the male figures are dominant in Buddhism in Thailand and are the leading figures who govern the dissemination of Buddhist and patriarchal ideology. It is seen that people are punished and rewarded for carrying on in this way, people are encouraged to conform and what is viewed as masculine is also seen as superior(Mead 1949).If women were able to be seen in positions of power in a religious sense in Thailand, it would change their perception of value and empower them to take on new roles for cultural and religious traditions . The whole power dynamic and system of bunkum(system of ineptness) and sakdi na (social hierarchy).  According to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni: “I’m just a small crack in the wall; the wall of patriarchy; on the wall of the hierarchy; on the wall of injustice. Soon there will be more cracks and someday the wall will fall.”( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni,2017).The ‘Wai’ in Thailand is a significant act of social behavior in Thailand. It is a physical gesture which is  symbolic of  a person’s social standing. The wai consists of hands clasped together, prayer-like, followed with a very slight bow. There are a variety of different ways to wai, for example someone would never wai a person younger than them first or in a lower position. In a school a new and younger teacher would wai the older teacher and the students would wai the new teacher and so on. The higher someone stands socially the higher hands are to be raised with monks and royalty receiving the highest of wais, with people raising them hands to their forehead. Thai people are very sensitive to their social standing in Thailands immensely hierarchical structure. The idea of a male having to Wai a religious female monastic in Thailand is an alien concept. Even in other intuitions such as hospitals and schools men advance much further and quicker than women. If someone in a senior position wished something done, they would ask the female, even if they started the job at the same time and were both interns with the same qualifications. This may even include cleaning or simply going to get coffee, the junior female in the place of work would always be asked, and if not then it would be the more feminine man and so on. By seeing more women in as leading figures in Buddhism it would begin to effect all other parts of Thai society. Human behavior is unbelievably malleable responding and contrastingly to contrasting cultural traditions(Mead 1949).Throughout the country there are numerous temple schools where families who cannot afford schooling can send their sons to get a good education. There are few choices for girls with little education, factory workers, manual workers or even sex workers. Families believe that sending their sons to be a  monk at a temple even for a short time garners them much merit for the next life, again something which is currently not possible for girls in Thailand currently.

 

 

 

 

To avoid trouble with the greater clergy many Bhikkhuni dub their temples ‘womens meditation centres’.Bhikkhuni in Thailand have faced widespread discrimination throughout Thailand both by Bhikku(male monks) and laypeople despite many trying to lead a quiet existence. On April 20, 2016, a Bhikkhuni ‘womens meditation centre’ was burned down, the centre was run by two Bhikkhuni who may also have had land problems with their neighbours, they, however, faced many challenges before this incident with being frowned upon by the clergy. Not only do Bhikkhuni have to work extremely hard to support themselves and their centres, due to not receiving any of the benefits that other monastics get; they must also concentrate on having relations with locals. The image of Thai monks has been tainted severely over the last few years with accounts of rape, drug trafficking, smuggling amongst an array of other crimes. Similar to in the way the image of Catholic priests has been tarnished the monks in Thailand have also been, perhaps, irreparably. The social elite in Thailand also are against female ordination in Thailand as every year Thailands biggest stars, and wealthiest individuals donate millions to temples, which they frequently receive tax refunds for.Many of the wealthiest people in Thailand have made deals with famous Thai monks as it is a legitimate way to take care of some of their money and keep it ‘clean’. Not only does the Thai Sangha forbid the ordination of females on Thai soil but they have also denied visas to Bhikkhuni coming to Thailand from abroad. In 2003 the Department of National Buddhist Affairs for Thailand denied visas for multiple Bhikkhuni; both from Sri Lanka and India. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni made the following statement after the visas were denied: “Is this the way that the Department of National Buddhist Affairs is trying to preserve Buddhism? This is clearly a systematic elimination of the Bhikhunni Sangha.This is disrespectful to the allowance of the Buddha himself. ” Another example was in early 2017 when a large group of 70 Bhikhunni arrived at the grand palace intending to pay respects to the late monarch but were denied. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni had already made preparations and called to the palace for confirmation however when they arrived at the palace were denied the monastic entrance. They were told that if they wished to pay their respects, they would have to disrobe and join the other laypeople.  Earlier in the year, other groups of Bhikkhuni were also denied entrance.

 

 

It is clear that the Bhikkhuni in Thailand face an uphill battle. They fight not only ideals of gender conformity but also are faced with opposition on all sides: The Sangha, laypeople, male patriarchy and the social elites. Bhikkuni offers a new vision for Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, one free from the corruption and scandal that is currently residing in the monkhood here. It is clear that individuals such as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni strive not only for gender equality in religion but in all aspects of Thai life. Gender equality in Buddhism is, of course, the first step in empowering women in Thailand to a new future. One in which women are as valued as men and feminine qualities are also seen as powerful.When Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was asked in 2017:

What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?

She replied:
“Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble that is the most important thing,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now, not the Sangha or others, we are growing and will continue to grow.”

Migrant Worker in Thailand-แรงงานข้ามชาติ

In Thailand, there are almost two million migrant workers, around eighty percent of them being Burmese. Many of the Burmese workers came in the eighties and nineties as Thailand experienced an economic boom having an average wage increase of eight percent per year. This was because the migrant Burmese workers would take up the jobs that many Thai people would not such as manufacturing and hard agricultural work. Many leave in the face of almost certain poverty for the chance of a better life.

I am Burmese and a migrant worker that is why the police don’t care about this case…. [M]y husband and I are only migrant workers and we have no rights here.

—Aye Aye Ma, from Burma, who was raped by two unknown Thai assailants after they shot and killed her husband on November 5, 2007, in Phang Nga province

This is not always the case as can be seen from this testimony by Aye Aye Ma. Many Burmese workers are bound totally to their employer. Many of the workers face extortion, physical harm and threats by government authorities. These are clear human rights abuses and are not limited to simply one area of Thailand but rather along the entirety of the country. Migrant workers face extortion at will by Thai authorities, often the value of several months wages at a time.When they cannot pay the workers are often beaten and arrested until a family member or friends can pay for their release.

Below is some quotes from the Human Rights Watch report: The tiger and the Crocodile

Whenever we are walking and talking on the street, if the police see us using the phone they will stop us and take it. If you want to talk to me about these kinds of cases, you will not be able to finish the interview today….It happens every day.

—U Win, a migrant worker from Burma in Surat Thani, August 27, 2008.

There are many dangers for workers who work at night. For example, when the workers meet Thai teenager gangs, they are robbed and beaten….The danger we face is invisible. If we were able to have mobile phones and motorcycles, we might manage to escape from the danger.[67]

—U Win, migrant worker from Burma, Muang district, Surat Thani province

If you pay money [to the police], you can do anything in our region. If you want, you can kill people … I have seen dead bodies many times by the side of the road … Our area is like a fighting zone … when the police hear the sounds of gunshots, they will not come … [later] the police will come ask what happened, and write down the information and then they go away, and that is all that happens.

—Saw Htoo, Burmese migrant worker who provided information to the Thai police, Mae Sot district, Tak province

“He was coming out of the shop. There were two police officers on a motorcycle who stopped him and asked him if he had a work permit. But he could not speak Thai and so he did not reply….Those two police started to beat him and they kicked him in the chest until he died there. Many Burmese were watching and nobody went and helped because all of the people were afraid of those police, so nobody said anything about this killing, and nobody informed the police station. When the two police saw that the boy died, they went away on their motorcycle. I saw the next morning that the rescue foundation came and took the boy’s dead body and no police officer was with them … I really wanted to help but I am afraid of those police.”

This is just a sampling of the human rights abuses and racial discrimination that Burmese workers face everyday here in Thailand.