Thailand sets up Leadership Academy for Muslim Women

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Women in South Thailand will get a major political boost on Tuesday when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presides over the national launch of a Leadership Academy for Muslim Women at Government House.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Social Development and Human Security Ministry will officially launch the innovative new programme at 2pm, with a joint partnership signing.

Of the roughly 7,000 political positions in villages and towns across Thailand, women hold just 4 per cent. In Parliament, women make up just 16 per cent of members, although they represent more than half of Thailand's population. And there is only one Muslim woman member of Parliament in Thailand.

Women hold just a small percentage of executive positions in local, village and sub-district [or tambon] administrations.

In 2007, women accounted for just 11 per cent of the membership of Tambon Administrative Organisations, Provincial Administrative Organisation/ Tambon Administrative Organisation councils, and municipal councils.

The proportion was the lowest in the South, which has the smallest share of female Members of Parliament (MP) - and the smallest percentage of party-list MPs, at 13 per cent.

"Empowering women empowers all of Thailand. The United Nations is proud to work with the Royal Thai Government on a programme that reaches out to women in the South, who already have the drive and the ambition," said Luc Stevens, UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Thailand.

"All they need is the opportunity. This programme will give them exactly that," Stevens said.

The Academy Programme will train Muslim women in the South through two distinct training programmes.

The first will equip women with skills to participate and take leading roles in community-development activities.

The second will further develop skills for women who want to pursue political ambitions and will focus more intensively on skills for political participation.

"In order to provide opportunities for women, we need to develop them to their full potential and strive for equality between women and men," said Social Development and Human Security Minister Santi Promphat.

"Women should be nourished in several ways, especially in knowledge and education."

The academy will also provide opportunities for women to be mentored by women already in political positions and will offer participants the chance to intern at political entities in their communities and provinces.

Upon completion, participants will be assigned to work for political entities in their respective areas on an internship basis, and where possible, to learn from and be mentored by Muslim women who are already in political positions.

Joining the prime minister at Government House will be Santi, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan and Rarinthip Sirorat, deputy permanent secretary for the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.

At the UN centre in Bangkok, Asia-Pacific governments, the justice and law-enforcement sectors, civil society organisations and UN agencies also marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Observed each year on November 25, the day marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. The 16 days were chosen to symbolically link the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with International Human Rights Day on December 10.

In Thailand, over 40 per cent of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

In her address to the audience, PM's Office Minister Sansanee Nakpong noted that the Thai government is focusing on empowerment, citing the prime minister's newly established National Women's Development Fund, which offers advice to women suffering from abuse and domestic violence.

Today, 125 countries have laws that penalise domestic violence, a huge step forward from just a decade ago.

However, up to seven in 10 women continue to be targeted with physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes, and 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not a crime.

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