Women’s status in Thailand.

I have been working in The Wildflower home for four weeks now and feel at this stage that I have found my feet, living and working in Chiang Mai. The most striking thing about working here is hearing the different women’s stories and the different circumstances that brought them to this home. Their stories reflect their status in this region of Thailand. Let me explain further:-

Many of the women here come from tribal backgrounds, from hill tribes of Thailand. If a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock or if she leaves her husband while pregnant, she is shamed by the tribe. That mother cannot have her baby in the family home, so she must go elsewhere – or at best, the family might build a small separate room for her and her baby to be housed in. She must carry out her pregnancy and deliver her baby alone without the help of her family. There’s strong belief in tradition here, and deeply embedded in their culture is the notion that if the woman carries her pregnancy full term in the village, any suffering or mishaps will be blamed on her. Having a baby, which should be viewed as a gift, is seen as a bad omen. If crops fail or there are droughts or floods which damage the tribe, the mother is blamed and held responsible. Respect for her family is damaged and with that comes huge shame . All the while the father of the child is off the hook, with no blame, no disgrace. These women have nowhere to go, with no support from their families or friends. They’re sent on their way, in a truly vulnerable position, pregnant, with no support or care. Sometimes they have to leave as a result of violence. However the mother can return back to the tribe thirty days after the baby has been delivered. Getting to this stage is daunting and in many cases not achieved. There is a high child and mother mortality rate.

Other women come from different backgrounds, where they are forced into the drug or sex trade. Many women are forced into selling drugs, often with the use of violence. The judicial system here imposes shorter sentences on women, than men – so it’s seen as the preferred option . Likewise, children are given shorter sentences and are sent to juvenile centres, so they too are used for trafficking and selling of drugs. Men here have higher status and this is exploited, using their power and superiority to ruin, damage and manipulate women to their advantage.
If a woman leaves her husband because of circumstances such as domestic abuse, they lose many of their rights, their status and respect. Often, it’s the man in the relationship who provides an income for the family, so if a woman leaves, she has no source of income and often, they’re forced to sell their bodies to survive and provide for the children.

The Wildflower Home is an amazing haven for these women to find refuge. They can stay during their pregnancy and raise their child. Here they are able to grow as people in a safe, calm and relaxed environment. They receive physical, psychological and spiritual care. Education is provided, along with the necessary skills to empower them, teaching them how to be self-sufficient and independent, so they can live a better life. If they wish to return back to their home tribe after the thirty day mark is reached, they are able to do so, and support is there to help them achieve this.

Hearing these women’s stories and learning about their backgrounds, has really shown me first hand that gender inequality exists in this place, as it does in so many societies around the world – sadly, it’s always present in one form or another. The effects are horribly damaging to a person’s development, self-worth and self-confidence. The Wildflower Home seeks to remedy that. The people who work here, provide such a valuable service. I’m struck too, by the resilience of these brave women, their desire to survive and to make a life for themselves and their beautiful children.