A long-running insurgency in Thailand’s Deep South has inflicted a toll of immense suffering on women and fueled a cycle of domestic violence, according to local advocates for gender equality.
This week, the head of a leading NGO that promotes women’s rights in the predominantly Muslim region called on the warring sides to find a non-violent resolution to the separatist conflict as a way to shield women from further pain and abuse.
“All sides, please seek peaceful solutions by political ways. Avoid using weapons that impact women,” Patimoh Po-etae-daoh, president of the group that calls itself WE PEACE, told BenarNews in a phone interview from Bangkok, where she had traveled to collect a peace prize from the Thai government on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Women may account for only 16 percent of the around 20,000 people who have been killed or injured since the conflict re-ignited in the Deep South 14 years ago, but the war has deeply affected many women by making widows of 3,000 of them and orphans of 9,000 children, she said.
“These losses lead to social troubles such as domestic violence, sexual violence, economic hardship, drugs and mistrust among neighbors,” Patimoh said.
Earlier in the week, Patimoh participated at a seminar organized by Oxfam International in Narathiwat – one of the provinces in the Deep South – to raise awareness about regionwide domestic violence.
“The public views widows, single moms as a burden of society. Sometimes we are looked down upon or harassed,” a local woman, whose husband was killed in shooting 12 years ago, told BenarNews.
The woman, who requested anonymity, described how she had since been subjected to harassment and insults because of her widowhood, and had struggled to raise and feed her orphaned children.
Hundreds of cases
In 2017, women in Pattani – another province in the region – lodged 722 complaints about violence in the household or other alleged misbehavior by their husbands, out of which 270 cases were resolved, according to imams who sit on a provincial Islamic committee.
In the Deep South, provincial Islamic committees are allowed to use Sharia law to settle domestic disputes or divorce cases, a local expert said.
“Mostly the husbands do not pay a monthly allowance, or they commit physical assault. An Islamic committee tries to mediate [so] husbands can honor pre-wedding promises,” Safie Jehloh, president of the Narathiwat Islamic Committee, told BenarNews.
In Songkhla province, which includes some districts that lie inside the boundaries of the Deep South, authorities last year launched an effort to reduce violence against women, according to a local official who took part in the seminar.
“We joined hands with the community and the Islamic committee to organize pre-marriage seminars for brides and grooms on domestic violence law. We are discussing with the Islamic Committee to allow police to step in during reconciliation, to make note so that police can enforce the law if the promise is broken,” Napaporn Bilheem, the attorney general in Songkhla, told BenarNews.