A young activist’s fight for gender equality and democracy in Thailand

Interview

By

Rattanaporn Khamenkit, Anna Lawattanatrakul, and Natthaphon Panudomlak

‘To be free from discrimination is human right’: a young activist’s fight for gender equality and democracy

Submitted on Fri, 18 Jun 2021 - 12:53 PM

Interview by Rattanaporn Khamenkit and Natthaphon Panudomlak:

Article by Anna Lawattanatrakul

Mimi (centre front) during the 7 November 2020 Pride parade in Bangkok

Mimi, 17, is a gender equality activist who has been charged with violating the Emergency Decree and the Public Assembly Act for giving a speech during the protest at the Ratchaprasong Intersection on 25 October 2020.

A former member of the gender equality activist group Feminist’s Liberation Front and one of the creators of the Thai version of the Feminist anthem “A Rapist in Your Path,” Mimi now runs the Twitter and Instagram pages of Feminist FooFoo, which publish content about gender justice. They also join the student movement in protesting against the new National Education bill, which is soon to go before parliament.

Prachatai speaks to Mimi about the beginning of their activism, life after facing charges for political expression, and the importance of gender justice in the pro-democracy movement.

The first step

Mimi said their parents have taught them about democracy since they were young, but they did not start joining political activities until they learned of the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai activist in exile who was abducted from his condominium in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020 and is still missing a year later.

Wanchalearm’s disappearance triggered a wave of protest against enforced disappearance, which became one of the main issues of the pro-democracy movement beginning in July 2020. Mimi was one of the young people who felt the need to do something at the time.

Protesters gathered in front of the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok on 8 June 2020 to demand that the Cambodian authorities investigate the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit

“When Wanchalearm was abducted, I felt that I could no longer do nothing. It didn’t matter how few people went to the Cambodian Embassy, I was still going. That’s when I first joined the movement,” Mimi said.

Even though some say it is inappropriate for young people to protest, Mimi believes it is a good thing that young people are taking a stand, as this is a way of saying that they also have rights and a voice. They said that young people are often excluded from the decision-making process and are prevented from speaking out about issues which affect them.

“I feel that, if we are all people, we shouldn’t judge other people’s experiences through our own experience,” Mimi said. “When adults say that they know better, I think that’s insulting. It diminishes our demands and diminishes our values. I think that, even if they are in kindergarten or in primary school, they have the same right to complain that they are tired. They have the right to say that their quality of life is not good.”

Mimi began their activism by working with the Feminist’s Liberation Front and the Free Queer and Non-binary group. They were also one of the creators of the Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem “A Rapist in Your Path” (Un Violador en Tu Camino).

Originally conceived by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis and sung in Spanish, the song has been translated and sung at women’s rights protests across the world as a way of speaking out about sexual violence and the patriarchal power structure that represses women.

The first performance of “A Rapist in Your Path” in Thai took place during the Pride parade in Bangkok on 7 November 2020, organized by the Feminist’s Liberation Front, then known as the Women for Freedom and Democracy group, and the gender equality activist group Seri Toey Plus. The performance was accompanied by drummers from the theatre group B-Floor. The lyrics were then modified and used in other protests to speak out about social issues, including abortion rights, freedom of expression, the judicial process, and human rights violations in schools.

Mimi (Front left) during the first performance of the Thai version of “A Rapist in Your Path” at the 8 November 2020 Pride parade

Mimi now runs the Twitter and Instagram pages Feminist FooFoo, which publish content about gender equality and LGBTQ rights, and said that they would continue to campaign for gender justice.

Mimi is also joining the protest against the new National Education bill, which will soon go before parliament. They said the bill is problematic, as it is not inclusive of students with disabilities, indigenous students, and other marginalized groups. The bill also allows for small schools to be closed down if the schools are not able to meet the goals set by legislation. It also requires the curriculum to follow the 20-year National Strategy and the National Reform Plan, as well as stating that rights come with duties, rather than freedoms.

“I am just one young person, and I don’t have any power. My family is not a powerful family. We are not a family that has any rank, but I am out there because I see injustice, I see oppression. I think that many people also see it, but they do not act. I want to say that we can’t create any change if we keep this knowledge to ourselves. We should let it out and join the movement. No matter how you do it, with civil disobedience, with donations, by joining protests, or by whatever activity, I think that’s already part of the movement,” Mimi said.

Life after an Emergency Decree charge

Mimi is facing charges for violating the Emergency Decree and the Public Assembly Act, after they gave a speech on gender justice and criticized the judicial process during the protest at the Ratchaprasong Intersection on 25 October 2020.

They told reporters after they reported to Lumpini Police Station on 13 January 2021 that the police thought the speaker was student activist Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, but later found out that the speaker was Mimi and charged them instead.

Mimi (front line, second from right) with other activists in front of the Lumpini Police Station

Due to their experience with the police and juvenile detention centres, Mimi believes that state officials do not understand the process of pressing charges against a minor, and lack gender sensitivity. They said that one officer had to look through a handbook to find out how to deal with their case, as they were under 18 at the time. When they reported to the juvenile detention centre, even though the officials there did not ask them about their sexual activity as they had heard, Mimi said the officers never asked them how they identify themselves, and did not understand what it means to be LGBTQ but told Mimi that their gender needs to be recorded so the officers can treat them properly.

“As soon as they saw me, they immediately marked me down as ‘Miss,’ even though I might identify as Mx, or as someone who isn’t a Miss or Mister. I identify as non-binary, but they didn’t care about my gender identity, and what was so shocking to me was that they have never heard of LGBT. If you haven’t heard of LGBT, is it right to tell me that you ask what my gender is so you can treat me properly?” Mimi said.

Mimi said that officers at the juvenile detention centre used the same questionnaire for all minors facing legal charges no matter if their case is a political case or not. The questionnaire included questions about sexual orientation, which Mimi said they felt was unnecessary in political cases. Mimi also said that the officers did not ask some questions directly, but filled out the form based on their own assumptions.

“The juvenile detention centre lacks understanding in so many issues. They lack understanding in the issues we’re talking about,” Mimi said. “They didn’t understand what feminists are. They didn’t understand what LGBT is. I don’t expect that everyone must know about these issues, because most people who know about these issues are people who have the right to access education, but at least I think that the juvenile detention centre, which works with young people, I think they should know.”

Mimi said that the legal process is time-consuming, as they have to meet the lawyers and report to the police. They often have to miss class and are not able to manage their time. They also said that they felt unsafe at school, and even though they have not been harassed, they are worried about how they would be viewed and what others would say.

Mimi also said that they are not very good at dealing with other people being concerned. They said that they are not stressed after receiving the summons, but they felt that it is difficult to explain to others who are concerned that they are alright. They said that they are able to handle their own mental health, as they understand themselves well, but the problematic judicial process still caused them to feel some uncertainty. Nevertheless, Mimi said they are still able to handle the situation.

“I live in the present. I work on understanding myself. Once I understand myself, then I try to imagine the worst case scenario that could happen and then think of a way to handle it. I am preparing myself mentally, so I think that even though I really have to face the worst case scenario, I can still handle it,” Mimi said.

Mimi’s case is still being processed by the public prosecutor and the charges have already been deferred twice. Mimi said they have not faced any intimidation, but the legal process has been slow.

Leaving no one behind

For Mimi, even though the feminist movement began with women who demanded their rights, because they did not have the right to vote or to work, and were often expected to take care of the home and become a mother, the current feminist movement is calling for justice for everyone, not only those who were assigned female at birth. They said that the feminist movement also focuses on getting past the gender binarity and increasing diversity. They also said that they are trying to understand the concept of intersectional feminism, which they understood to mean that oppression is not only due to gender but also other factors, such as class or political beliefs.

“I think everyone should be a feminist, because if it’s a true democracy, the people should be supreme, and every person should be equal, no matter their gender or class,” Mimi said. “I think that the democracy I dream of is not just about everyone having equal rights, but I think that, regardless of your gender background, your family background, or your mental background, you should be treated equally.”

Mimi said that another important issue in the feminist movement is destroying the patriarchal structure in the society, but they believe that this is not an easy task, and that it would not be possible even if there is democracy, so the work needs to continue.

“I think we won’t be rid of [patriarchy] so easily, because it’s been around for a thousand years. Democracy has only been around for a hundred years,” Mimi said. “I think that even though we get to have the vote and have democracy, I think we still won’t be able to destroy patriarchal culture, so we have to continue complaining about what we feel is injustice.”

A protester during the aborton right protest in front of the parliament compound on 23 December 2020 holding a sign saying “Sex is not the same as gender identity.”

Nevertheless, Mimi believes that feminist ideas are now more widespread than before on social media and among young people, and even though some people do not call themselves feminist, their ideas are feminist ideas because they were treated unfairly and are fighting for justice. Mimi also said that there could be many people who did not have access to academic concepts because of the class-based oppression that prevented them from getting an education.

“I want to leave feminist ideas with people, because I don’t want it to stay with just one group, or for there to be only one group of people who understand it,” Mimi said.

Participants in the 7 November 2020 Pride parade holding the rainbow pride flag

Mimi would like to see a society that cares about wellbeing, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, which would allow people in the society to live happily. They want to see a society without discrimination, which understands diversity, whether it is about gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

“In our society right now, there is the binary framework. There is a male frame and a female frame, which are the frames within the framework, but I think that’s not all there is. Men are not the first gender, women are not the second gender, and LGBT are not the third gender. Everyone is a gender, no matter how you identify,” Mimi said.

For Mimi, even though there is freedom, if there is still discrimination and inequality, we are not truly free, and therefore gender justice is important.

“To be free from discrimination, I think that is human right,” Mimi said.