Women's rIghts activists were "naive" to believe that working-class women would have a better life if the new constitution contained a clause guaranteeing that women would have an equal representation in local administrations, panellists said during a discussion held to mark International Women's Day yesterday.
The controversial issue came to the fore last week when Ticha Na Nakorn stepped down from her role as a constitution drafter to protest over the rejection of her proposal that local administrations be staffed by more women.
Speaking yesterday at a discussion on "Women, Freedom of Expression", Saowalak Phongam, of Workers Democracy Group, said she believed more female representatives in Parliament would not really represent the voice of lower-class women.
"I have to use the word 'naive' to criticise the feminist activists who campaign for the equal share of seats in Parliament between male and female. If such a campaign is successful, there will be only elite women in Parliament," Saowalak said.
The discussion, held at the 14th October Memorial Monument, was organised by Maledprik, a group of social activists.
"The general election is the method by which the lower class can speak out their voices," Saowalak said, adding that the real aim of International Women's Day has changed.
"The origin of International Women's Day really has its roots in socialism. It is a day to celebrate the fight for the rights of women. But now in Thailand, this day has become an occasion for the upper class to reward the well behaved women," she said.
Natcha Kongudom, a Bangkok University student and activist, said the problem in Thai society nowadays is less about gender equality and more about class.
"Some people in the country still think that Thai people are not ready for elections. They think elections always bring corrupt politicians. This is the real problem and it is more dangerous than gender inequality," Natcha said.
Seven speakers were invited to the discussion, all of them women involved in political and social struggles. The main objective of the discussion was to highlight the need for a national election to allow people to have their fundamental rights and gender equality.
At the end of the discussion, the members of Maledprik, dressed in traditional Thai folk dress, organised a symbolic demonstration to express their demand for the end of martial law and fresh elections.
Women's organisations, State Enterprise Workers' Relation Confederation, WeMove - women's movement for Thailand's reform - UN Women, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and the Trade and Development and International Republican Institute marched from Rajdamnoen Avenue to Thammasat University yesterday. They called for an equal gender proportion of parliamentarians to be enshrined in the new charter.