THAILAND - Female members of the National Reform Council (NRC) have vowed to push for the rights of alternative sexualities and, if in a position to do so, will propose the inclusion of "third-gender" equality in the new constitution.
NRC members and women's activists Ticha Na Nakorn and Supatra Nakapiew are concerned for the gender inequality of alternative-sexuality citizens, citing the need for society to take the issue seriously.
"Previous constitutions have neither mentioned the third gender nor stated its role in society clearly. If it is possible to put their rights in the constitution, I will support it," said Supatra, who is also head of the Thai NGO Coalition on Aids.
She said she would propose the matter of strengthening the status of alternative sexualities to the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and push for equality for third-gender people in the new charter.
Ticha said that if she had the chance to be a CDC member, she would propose that the committee empower third-gender status in order to resolve inequality issues.
Thai people should accept the existence of people with alternative sexualities, with them being recognised in society, she said.
In the drawing up of the now-defunct 1997 constitution, a drafter had said people living with Aids should be treated on an equal basis to other groups of people, Ticha said.
"We should not wait any longer to realise that this [non-recognition] is a problem in society, and the new constitution that will come out shortly should also give status to the third gender," she stressed.
Over the past ten years, alternative sexualities were not acceptable in society and most of them were treated discriminately.
For instance, students couldn't wear the uniform of the gender they chose to be. Also teachers who are of the third gender were seen as inappropriate amid fears that they would influence their students to become like them.
But nowadays, Thai society is more open. In universities, alternative sexualities can make a request to the rector asking to wear the uniform of the gender they choose.
Treungjai Buranasompop, a political affairs member of the NRC, said she had personally been associating with this group of people, and that firstly, their families had to accept what they were, because if they were unable to do so, it could also lead to inequality in society.
Supatra, who is an environmental affairs member of the NRC, said she would also like to see more women in the political arena, children given greater opportunities to study, and the serious issue of domestic violence resolved.
"The CDC should push forward the strengthening of people's equality to be written in the constitution," she said.
She lamented that violence against children and women was still at large, along with discrimination against the poor in many fields.
Ticha added that women also had to fight for their rights, and the NRC should be the voice for expressing people's opinions.
"Women have been suppressed in many ways, and their rights to express their ideas have been limited. Everyone should take this problem seriously," she said.
As an education member of the NRC, she also urged that the education system should be reformed in a way that stressed people's integrity and perspective.
"The education system in Thailand should accustom itself to changes in society, and teachers should not limit children's capacity but rather expand and support their skill sets," she said.
Less than 40 of the NRC's 250 members - just 16 per cent - are women, and some observers fear that any push for gender equality for women might not be supported by the male majority on the council.
Rossana Tositrakul, an energy reform member of the NRC, suggested quotas for female members should reach 30 per cent in order to recognise women's status and their role in politics, and said she would like to see support for women becoming presidents or vice presidents of councils or assemblies, as well.
Treungjai said she had been given a great opportunity in being chosen as an NRC member, which proved that in the council there is no gender inequality and that today in society a man and a woman can be treated equally.
She added that the NRC was a combination of individuals with no official affiliation and people from government agencies, with men largely making up the latter.
For example, there are more men than women in politics, including those from the military and police.
This means there are naturally more male members on the council, and the disparity is not because females are being discriminated against, she reasoned.