As a result of the 1997 financial crisis, 95% of those workers laid off from the garment sector were women and 88% of those who lost their jobs in the toy sector. Women are disproportionately affected by such a crisis (including the current one) because, as Amelita King Dejardin of the ILO pointed out, women are more likely to be concentrated in the manufacturing jobs feeding the export industries and to be at lower levels in those factories. They are more likely to be sub-contractors or temporary or casual workers than men and, hence, usually the first to be laid off in bad conditions.
As she points out: “The consequence of losing a job also affects women differently and more severely. Research shows that the poorer the family the more important the woman’s earnings are to the family’s subsistence, children’s health and education. And because women workers in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam – among other countries – are concentrated in lower paid jobs they tend to save less; so a small pay cut or price rise can severely damage them and their dependants.”
Of course, there are some occasions or sectors in which women are better treated than men, which means that it is important to consider the impact of gender issues in addition to all other perspectives. In 1997, for example, women were not included in the social dialogue and the jobs that were created, through investment in infrastructure, tended to be more likely to go to men than women. Consequently, as she observes: “… the concept of what are public works should be expanded to incorporate social services, healthcare, education, child and youth development. Recruitment strategies must be created to reach women. Child care facilities must be included. Initiatives specially targeting unemployed women are needed. Economic and fiscal stimulus packages must include support for microfinance –which has been extremely effective in helping women start small businesses.”
So far, the current government seems to be no more alert to what is required than the incompetent Chuan Leekphai administration that was in power in 1997. However, there is still time for Abhisit to do something useful.
There is a new ‘Coyote Bunny Bar’ on the corner of the Lad Prao-Ratchada intersection that I pass on my way home in the evening. It has taken over a space formerly used by a piano salesroom – which I always thought was likely to be a failure given the location. There is, after all, no nearby parking (except perhaps for the multi-storey car park attached to the subway station which would be described as ‘nearby’ in some countries but not in Bangkok, where walking is not a major activity.
I am not sure how successful the Coyote place will be – it is I suppose a bar where young woman dance half-naked and possibly will accept assignations with gentlemen punters – these places seem to come and go very quickly. During the recent junta period, two or three places opened along the stretch of Lad Prao I pass on the home journey but none of them lasted more than a few weeks – they advertise their presence not just by red lights and decorations but also by having some of the staff sitting on bar stools on the pavement. During an economic recession, such as is about to strike here, it would be expected that there would be an increase in the number of people willing to work in the industry, even if spending power among the patrons may have decreased – perhaps such people are substituting local places for more upmarket competitors in central Bangkok or overseas?
The usual arguments about the objectification of women as sex objects applies (irrespective of how willing the women are to be involved) but it spreads into many other aspects of Thai society. Walk to any department store or shopping centre and it is pretty much guaranteed that product demonstrations and point-of-sale promotions will be conducted by young women dressed in the seemingly obligatory short skirt and boots combination. A few years ago, when Kasikorn Bank was introducing its new e-banking services, it made rather a fool of itself by having ‘E-Girls’ to promote the scheme, also dressed in the same way and having them behave as vacuous bimbos rather than well-informed bank tellers. I recall once passing by a party for the ordination of one or more monks and on stage were a number of female dancers who, while not quite in the coyote style, were still not wearing very much. Predictable attitudes also pervade the media and workplace.