Last Tuesday, also known as International Women’s Day, Northern Labour Network organised “Because We Are Women” at Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate. This activity-filled night centered Thailand’s most marginalised: female migrant workers. Northern Labour Network was joined by Migrant Assistance Programme Foundation (MAP), a similar NGO that seeks to advance the workplace rights of Burmese migrant communities living in Thailand. Empower Foundation, Human Rights and Development, BEAM Education Foundation, Tee Dang, and Young Pride Club were amongst other organisations who attended the event in solidarity. The event was a poignant reminder of who we ought to keep at the forefront of our minds throughout March’s International Women’s Month.
Partially live-streamed by and open to the public, the two-and-a-half hour gathering was led by two lively emcees. Thais and farangs alike enjoyed a night of live music, dance routines by all female groups and traditional Burmese dance groups, and even some performance art. Karen Women’s Organisation provided a donation bin to support relief efforts for women and families fleeing Burma while Empower Foundation distributed a free zine entitled “Because we’re women,” highlighting the daily hardships and double standards women endure. Dispersed throughout the courtyard were also several “freeative spaces” supplied with chalk and spray cans for folks to explore their artistic sides in celebration of women.
The main event of the night was a short film followed by a panel discussion. Migrant Mother, a documentary film by Lanna Project and the Northern Labour Network, shares the stories of two single Shan mothers (Yuwadee Kantam and Mo Saeng) struggling to make ends meet after losing their jobs during the pandemic. Despite contributing the same amount of money as their Thai counterparts to Thailand’s Social Security Fund, both women are ineligible for any compensation or COVID relief funding from the government. As the sole caretakers of their children, these women’s employment, and financial burdens, bleed into the lives of their children’s educational futures. After the film screening, Saeng and Kantam were joined by moderator Sukanta Sukphaita, as well as one of the film crew members, a representative of Northern Labour Network, and Chiang Mai University professor, Ariya Svetamra. The night concluded with leaders of respective organizations reciting a statement of requests from migrant workers that will eventually be presented to the Thai government.
“Because We Are Women,” comes on the heels of MAP’s 21st anniversary “Women Exchange Get-Together,” themed, “End Prejudice – Equality Today.” Women’s empowerment organisations throughout Chiang Mai continue to advocate for women’s rights and show us that the fight for equal opportunity is not over. While International Women’s Month can be a time to celebrate women’s accomplishments and strides made towards gender equality, the stories of migrant mothers like Yuwadee Kantam and Mo Saeng remind us of the ongoing struggles of Thailand’s most disadvantaged.