By: DeAnna Castro and Mamta Chaudhari
Historically, men have held most of the leadership roles in most societies. Women don’t usually have much power or many rights. In the United States, women in any sort of political leadership role are hard to find. We have observed otherwise in Thailand.
Many of our encounters with leaders have been women. The woman behind the entire trip, Noi, is always the one negotiating, planning, and organizing where we go in Thailand. Without her, we would be lost and could not accomplish what we set out to do. She is the one that has the final word, even our male professors follow what she says. This woman has all the qualities of a leader, yet in Thai culture this seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Everywhere we turned, it seemed as though women were running the show.
In Kalasin, Subin was the woman everyone answered to. She directed every activity that we did in that village. She was even the woman that the village leader took orders from while we stayed there. She communicated with principles and the district leader (who happened to be a woman) without faltering and all while caring for her baby. What was more amazing is her concern for her village and the people. All over the village women seemed to be in charge. The husband and sons would spend the day out at the farm caring for the family crop while the women socialized, managed bills, and directed home activity. Men did the dirty work while women headed the household. When it came to young adults in the village, the men were hardly seen as they worked hard in the fields while the young women all went to college, aspiring to get jobs in America. It seemed very few men in the village spoke English, while most of the young women had a grasp of the language. Women in the village were more likely to be educated than the men.
Women were seen everywhere in all sorts of positions. We saw women working as school officials, taxi boat coordinators, and health clinic managers. More often than not, we interacted with female professionals. Even schools in Thailand have many more female than male students. Ben, a Thai male with us on the trip, joked that we should work the “Thai way”. The women do the actual work while the men watch and point. It seems that society is really run by the women here.
During our stay at Ban Nam Hom School, we had a chance to attend a Karen wedding ceremony. We waited with the bride’s family for the groom to arrive. They arrived with their entire village. The men were rather drunk and jolly while the women cooked and prepared for the ceremony. We were told that in Karen tradition, whatever a couple acquired during their marriage would belong to the wife’s family so if they were to separate, the wife would have full ownership of all their wealth while the man would be left with nothing.
We have been raised under the impression that apart from the Western world, women are down trodden, have very few rights and hold no power. It has been a pleasant surprise to see that the case is quite the opposite in Thailand where women are usually well educated, have equal rights, and play an active role in the success of the country.