How Thailand United Against Gender Discrimination This Year
In 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and ratified by almost 200 countries. Taking this pivotal step to include the female half of the world under the human rights umbrella was a monumental stride but the fact remains that globally a large number of women continue to face gender-based discrimination and inequality.
Being able to live a life free of violence and discrimination in the workplace, at home and in wider society is something many of us take for granted. Sadly this is not the case though, as two recent major female-centric gatherings in Bangkok—platforms working to change and improve the future of women in Thailand and the region—highlighted. Though differing in structure and programme, both the Women CEOs Summit 2019 and the Dragonfly 360 event aimed to raise awareness of women-related issues and the push for gender equality and female empowerment.
AWEN Women CEOs Summit
The Women CEOs Summit is a fundamental part of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network’s (AWEN) efforts to promote the potential of women business leaders and entrepreneurs across the region. Given that this was the first time a summit of women CEOs had been convened in ASEAN, the two-day event at the end of October 2019 generated much excitement. It saw prominent political figures, global leaders in business and society and CEOs from the ASEAN countries congregate at the Grand Hyatt Erawan to discuss the empowerment of women and ways in which to create a brighter future for them in the world of business.
Spearheaded by Khunying Natthika Wattanavekin Angubolkul, chairwoman of AWEN, the event was themed Globalization 4.0 and Beyond: Shaping the Future for Women’s Enterprises and encompassed a series of panel discussions, lectures and information and personal experience exchange sessions. The opening ceremony was presided over by HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati Kromluangrajasarinisiribajra.
The key areas of discussion included addressing the tides of change that have come with the fourth industrial revolution—heavily influenced by technological advancements and digitisation—and its impact on global trade, economic growth and social progress, ageing societies, automation and the role of women in all of this. How businesses led by women can transition through globalisation 4.0 and understanding global economy and social changes were also addressed.
Related: She Runs The Board (Part 4): Khunying Natthika Angubolkul, Chairwomen Of AWEN
The event kicked off with a short video message from the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, before former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took to the stage to give his opening remarks. He was keen to underline the growth of inequality gaps and persisting challenges saying, “According to the World Economic Forum, globally the gender gap still exists at roughly 30 per cent. As a region we are doing very badly in terms of female representation in politics and the business world. Despite the many women leaders here today, it has to be said that important positions in both public and private sectors are not being sufficiently filled by women in this region. The key for future success depends on the ability to build bridges and close gaps and if we can do that, we will be moving ahead.”
Moderated by Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and State Office at the Ministry of Commerce, a plenary session highlighting the emerging opportunities in a world of disruptive transformations saw Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Rossana Fajardo, partner and market advisory leader at SGV&Co, Amanda Oldridge, regional HR director of Linfox International Group and Manon Pilon, founder of Derme & Company all shared their views on how to run a business while adapting to and incorporating technological innovations and advancements. With the proliferation of automation technologies, it is crucial for women to re-skill themselves to remain relevant.
Juggling between work and family life is a struggle for many women and so the work environment needs to be more female-friendly. This was a topic of discussion most women across the panels could relate to. In fact, it should be a point of pride to be both the leader of a company and a trooper mum for the family as Sinta Kamdani, CEO of Indonesian conglomerate Sintesa Group, made clear when she introduced herself as a proud mother of four. “The only thing that stops any woman breaking through is self-doubt,” said Suphajee Suthumpun, CEO of Dusit Thani. She and her fellow panelists encouraged women to believe in themselves above all and work hard for what they want. Prosperous and fruitful careers aside, issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination from male peers in the workplace were also discussed with many of the women CEOs willing to share their personal stories of dealing with such challenges.
CNN international correspondent Anna Coren, an advocate for women’s rights, took time off from her busy schedule to join the summit both as a moderator and a speaker. Sunita Rajan, senior vice president for Asia Pacific of CNN International was also present at the Lunch Talk: Great Minds Think Unalike. UN Women, which strongly advocates women’s economic empowerment as vital to realising their rights and gender equality, also hosted a session moderated by Anna-Karin Jatfors, deputy director of the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
An all-Chinese women’s plenary session saw some of the country’s most ambitious and driven female entrepreneurs share their experiences of how much China has evolved in terms of women’s rights and recognising the increasingly important roles of women in the workforce and economy. “Compared to just a few decades ago, women in China are now happy both as family members and in the pursuit of their careers,” said Cheng Ting, CEO of Wisdom Valley. “Overall, women in China have better positions in society and are seen as equals.”
“Women constitute over 51 per cent of the population in ASEAN—a region known worldwide for its sustained dynamism and wide-ranging achievements in social and economic development,” Khunying Natthika said but added, “Nevertheless, gender-based disparities remain a matter for concern in our part of the world and across the globe. Such disparities will have to be reduced and removed so that business and government in ASEAN and elsewhere can manage and transform, better and more equitably, the multi-sided and complex challenges into shared prosperity and sustainability under the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
The summit ended with closing remarks by prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and an extravagant gala dinner. Ultimately, the gathering, which welcomed over 350 participants from approximately 21 ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries, hopes to become a leading catalyst in promoting and developing women-led enterprises whilst improving women’s access to opportunities, resources and business links. A more inclusive development in Asia in the changing digital environment for women is a key focus.
Dragonfly 360 Summit
Organised by Dragonfly founder Pranapda Phornprapa with the aim of reinforcing and fostering a better understanding of women’s rights and gender equality, the Dragonfly 360 Summit held at Centara Grand Bangkok offered a more laidback and dynamic setting geared towards empowerment through stories that inspire. Much like the AWEN Women CEOs Summit, this was a female-centric event but it differed in scope. Under the theme of transformation, it looked to shed light on the full gamut of issues affecting women—their treatment and rights in the work place, home and a range of social milieu. Take action, be the change and be a dragonfly was a key message.
The summit featured a variety of speakers, panel discussions and workshops. Among those invited to share their inspiring stories, as well as the adversities they have faced, were local celebrities Cindy Sirinya Bishop, Woody Vuthithorn Milintachinda, Chompoo Araya Hargate and Pear Amata Chittasenee, as well as internationally renowned American actresses Maggie Q and Jameela Jamil and Jordan’s Lina Kalifeh, the founder of SheFighter, the global martial arts training studio for women. Although she could not attend the event in person, Jamil was able to share her views via a brief real-time Skype session during which she discussed ways to tackle unrealistic beauty standards and the ‘I weigh’ movement that opposes narrowly defined beauty standards and body shaming.
Sexual harassment in the workplace and in public places, as well as issues of domestic violence and the way it is often overlooked or not reported, were also discussed. “Despite regional advances to ensure gender equality and promote women’s empowerment, women in Asia and the Pacific continue to face discriminatory policies, social and cultural barriers, and threats to their security,” according to UNESCAP. Some say that gender equality begins at home but sadly more often than not women face physical harm from those closest to them. Sia Kukaewkasem, a hilltribe survivor of domestic violence, shared her traumatic experience, demonstrating how one can take strength from activism in the push for equality and empowerment.
Indian social activist, founder of pioneering anti-trafficking organisation Prajwala and former rape victim Sunitha Krishnan was also present to give an inspiring and brutally moving speech about the persistence of rape culture in her society and its failure to protect victims. In a world dominated by social media, she advocated enhanced regulations for monitoring and filtering the content of perpetrators who share their criminal acts on social media.
“Movements like Me Too and Time’s Up or Don’t Tell Me How to Dress have demonstrated to us the magnitude of sexual violence,” explained Cindy Bishop, herself the victim of sexual harassment. A story she shared openly at the summit described how at the age of 17 she was sexually harassed by a group of men during the annual Songkran Festival. Given that she was not inappropriately dressed, she said the existing tendency to blame the victims because of their choice of outfit was an outrageous trend that needed to end.
See also: #DontTellMeHowToDress
SheFighter founder Lina Kalifeh is an advocate of women facing their fears and being able, if needed, to defend themselves. In 2018 she was awarded the Economic Empowerment Leadership award by Hilary Clinton and honoured by former US president Barack Obama at the White House’s Emerging Global Entrepreneurship event in 2015. Like the other speakers at the event, Kalifeh’s success story is an inspiration for many women; not only in terms of creating one’s own business and being financially independent but also overcoming the traditional beliefs that women cannot do certain things.
Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was also present at this summit, formed part of an all-male panel discussing toxic masculinity and the roles men play in reinforcing gender equality. He, along with regional chairman of Unilever, Canadian Robert Candelino, Renaud Meyer, UNDP resident representative in Thailand and Pascal Gerken, CEO of Gerken Group and co-founder of Grager, offered their views on what a toxic male is and how the attitudes of such men directly impact women.
The full day at Centara Grand included other panel discussions such as It’s a Man’s World and Bankable Advice, in which Kattiya Indaravijaya, president of Kasikorn Bank, Niramarn Laisathit, senior executive vice president of Bangkok Bank and Leili Gerami, chairwoman of Lege Investments from Iran offered advice on making financial decisions that would allow women to be more secure. The day also featured appetisers created by female chefs Tam Chudaree Debhakam and Bo Duangporn Songvisava, who have risen to fame in a male-dominated industry.
See more: Pranapda Phornprapha Calls For Gender Equality With The Dragonfly 360 Summit
There were also a number of workshops, all of which are very informative. While The Voices in Your Head workshop focused on understanding the human personality and the relationship between vulnerability and gender, others like Reimagine the Saving and Spending Experience helped to guide women aspiring to financial independence.
Over many years countless conferences have taken place around the world regarding women and their place in it. Although it is unclear what kind of concrete changes these gatherings will bring in the future, there is definitely a need to talk about the issues facing women in the workplace and at home. “The frightening thing is that the 30 per cent gender gap might not seem like much but the World Economic Forum calculated that it would take over a hundred years to close it,” said Abhisit. “It’s time to take advantage of the disruptions that are taking place, to rewrite the rules and level the playing field. Today’s technological disruptions mean old structures are becoming obsolete and new opportunities are created. This is almost offering us a shortcut from the burden of the historical institutionalised discrimination of the past, but what it also means is that we have to be proactive and move beyond talking.”
Hopefully in the near future the contribution of initiatives such as the AWEN Women CEO and Dragonfly 360 summits will make advancements in the fight to safeguard the civil, legal and human rights of women, allowing them to fulfil their potential so that humanity as a whole can benefit.
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