BANGKOK — Thailand should stop prosecuting female sex workers, improve conditions in women’s prisons and take steps to protect female human rights defenders, the UN body in charge of promoting gender equality has suggested.
Those issues were among a host of recommendations from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, in its first such review of women’s status in the kingdom in over a decade.
Although most the report’s 14 pages were devoted to measures Thailand should take to live up to its international and self-imposed commitments to gender parity, it did acknowledge positive developments such as enactment of the 2007 Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence Act, the junta-sponsored constitution of 2007 and – with some caveats – the Gender Equality Act of 2015.
“The Committee notes that the revised Constitution, which came into effect in April 2017, prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including sex, and guarantees the principle of equality between men and women,” the committee wrote.
It noted the Gender Equality Act included exceptions to those guarantees for matters of religion and “national security.” It also urged protections against discrimination be guaranteed in the southern border provinces, where they do not apply.
The committee’s recommendations came July 24, about two weeks after the military government presented its progress report in Geneva.
CEDAW recommends that Thailand review the Suppression and Prevention of Prostitution Act in order to decriminalize women in prostitution.
What’s more, the committee said the root causes of prostitution should addressed and targeted adopted measures to prevent women in vulnerable situations from entering prostitution. This, it said, could be achieved by providing women with alternative income opportunities.
What’s more, it called for the immediate end of the practice of violent raids of entertainment venues, entrapment operations and extortion.
In a climate that has seen at least one human rights lawyer charged with sedition for representing political dissidents, CEDAW recommended that Thailand adopt and implement “effective measures for the protection of women human rights defenders to enable them to freely undertake their important work without fear or threat of lawsuits, harassment, violence or intimidation.”
On women in detention, the committee recommended urgent measures be taken to reduce the number of women incarcerated and improve conditions of women’s detention facilities in accordance with a set of UN guidelines also known as “the Bangkok Rules.”
“Prohibit and take immediate action to discontinue invasive physical searches of women by penitentiary officers and extend the use of technologies such as 3D body scanners to all prisons,” the committee advised.
Eliminating harmful stereotypes was another issue raised by the committee. CEDAW urged Thailand to adopt a comprehensive strategy with proactive and sustained measures that target women and men at all levels of society, including religious and traditional leaders.
This should be done “to eliminate stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society and harmful practices that discriminate against women.”
On the trafficking of girls and women, the committee recommended implementing effective protections, offering assistance and providing support to organizations which assist victims of trafficking.
The committee also recommends Thailand pass legal guarantees that women and men enjoy equal rights to confer their nationality on foreign spouses.
In the end, the committee said the Thai government should publish the recommendations in Thai language and distribute them to all related agencies to encourage their full implementation.