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Discourse on violence against women: the case of marital rape.

In November 2002 during the Campaign against VAW month, Alliance for the Advancement of Women, in collaboration with Foundation for Women and Gender and Development Working Group organized a seminar on "Discourse on Violence against Women: the case of Marital Rape". The purpose of this seminar was to report on the progress of the Campaign for the amendment of Article 276 in the Thai Criminal Code, which allows husbands who rape their wives to go unpunished, and to raise general public awareness on the issue of violence against women.

The followings are some of the main points emerging from the seminar.

Ms. Siriporn Skrobanek, President of Foundation for Women opened the seminar and gave an update on the Campaign to amend article 276 that was started on March 8th, 2002. She reported that about 10,000 signatures have been collected up to November 2002. The signatures include people of different groups including rural women leaders, grassroots women, the middle class and some well-known public figures. Nearly 80% of people participating in the Campaign so far are women including the Bangkok Metropolitan Clerk and the Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Twenty percent of those who have also signed on to the Campaign are men including Mr. Abhijit Vejacheeva the Vice Chief of the Democrat Party.

Mrs. Skrobanek noted that this Campaign has also stirred up some debates and discourse over women's status. It was found that the perception that regards "women as buffaloes and men as human" still exists in the Thai society. Thus, the discussion today may lead to a new discourse on violence against women, especially in the context of a marriage i.e., how women want to see safety and security in their lives. This also reinforces the aim of the Constitution to uphold dignity of all human being--women, men, children or adult-without any discrimination.

Mr. Chaladchai Ramitanond, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiangmai University.

"Men create discourse."

"Marital rape is a major issue but regrettably it has been considered at only as a small problem. This issue is not even well recognized among the social movements of the Thai civil society today. A few women's groups have to work hard to bring the issue to public attention. I think this is about creating a discourse.

The term "discourse" refers to a series of explanation of natural occurrence and phenomenon. As such, there are no implications on which discourse is right or which is wrong. Thus, in a diverse society we need different sets of discourse to explain different phenomena. It is important to note that men have more opportunities than women do to create discourse. Nevertheless, since discourses are product of human integenuity, they can be changed, abolished or newly created.

Resistance to the Campaign

The proposed amendment of law has received much resistance not just because it, deals with sex or reproduction. But more importantly, the proposed change in the law touches on the power relations in Thai society, which rests on the men's control over women's body. It is about the control of sexuality.

Men agree to let women have voting rights. Although they also agree to allow women to hold parliamentarian positions, they do not allow them to wear trousers to the parliament office. If this much is not possible, one can anticipate that the proposed law amendment will be an upheaval battle because the change would forego what men regard as their rights.

Thai State is no different from Burma/Myanmar.

On the occasion of the Campaign against VAW day, a book entitled "License to Rape" was launched at the Women's Studies Center, Chiangmai University. The book reveals how Burmese soldiers use rape as a weapon to suppress and destroy the ethnic minorities that demand separation from the state. Such a war is not only considered as ethnic war, but also gender war.

The Burmese State gives "license to rape" to its soldiers in order to suppress their own people. Likewise, the Thai government has been authorizing husbands to rape their wives by issuing marriage certificates. Thus, some women do not regard registering of marriage as a dignity or an honor because this gives a license for the husband to rape his wife, as long as the marriage remains legal.

Foundation for Women has conducted a documentary review on the following discourses.

"It is natural that men have greater and stronger sexual need."

There is no academic (or scientific) evidence that men have greater and stronger sexual need than women. Men who are sitting here may say that they do not have greater and stronger sexual need. So, the statement is neither a fact nor it warrants academic (or scientific) conclusion. It is only a discourse, which was created by men and has been maintained to justify men's sexual behavior. Because men want to behave in such a way, they use an excuse of having greater sexual need.

Some people think that distinctions must be made between rape--as an act of violation, sex for reproduction, and sex for pleasure. They believe that if men only want sex for pleasure, women can refuse. However, if men want sex for reproduction women should comply and see it as a duty. The question here is, can such a distinction be made? If men want only reproduction, perhaps they can try other methods. Modern medical technology is available these days to serve this kind of need. Therefore, such a statement is only meant to serve one's own interest.

"It is the duty of a wife according to traditional culture."

Since the term "culture" is created, therefore what considered culture are mostly discourses. For example, status of a housewife has been created in a specific cultural, economic and political context and based on a particular condition of gender relation. During the earlier time, parents wanted their daughters to marry a man with higher social and economic status, and who has already been ordained. These elements indicate power. Considering younger age, lower social, economic and educational status, women of the old time find themselves in a subordinate position when they enter into a marriage. However, such differences in terms of age, education level as well as social and economic status between couples are no longer common nowadays. Still, the law continues to entrust men with greater power and authority over women. How could this be appropriate in the current context?

"Family is more important than women's rights over their body"

There need to be a new definition, which says, "A caring family is the one without violence"

While we believe that family is a basic unit of love and care, Thai people are blinded to see that in many cases, family could be an institution full of abusive power, violence and torture. Surely we are longing for a warm and loving family. We should realize that a warm and loving family is based on relationship free from violence. Then how to establish and maintain such relationships within family is a key for real hapiness not only for individuals but also for society.

"The existing law is good because it has been drafted by legal experts and lawyers with degrees from abroad."

This discourse is actually considered as the core of all the discourses. In this context, the discourse refers to explanation or a set of interpretation developed by experts or those who claim that they are experts. This discourse can be misleading since the persons claimed to be the knowers may not really knew or may be biasd. All of the lawyers and legal experts who drafted what claimed to be a good law are men. It's therefore, important to carefully examine the risks involved, that their biological status, as being a man, may hinder them to fully reflect women's experiences of rape into developing respective laws and regulations.

The last point is the discourse on community.

The hope lies now on building strong community to support women in the family. The problem is that men are normally in the forefront of the community movement and they are not quite sensitive to the family issue. They only pay attention to the community as a unit of study without going deeper to understand the family unit and the gender power or age relations evolves with it.

In Thai society nowadays, men still represent community and the family. Since women are also taught to follow men's line of thinking, violence against women in the family is therefore perceived as a personal problem that community should not interfere. Unfortunately, this way of thinking will not help in building strong community.

Dr. Chalidaporn Songsamphand, Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University

The fight agianst female violence has reached another step i.e., to concretely amend article 276 of the criminal code. However, this effort has been met with great resistance because some fundamental believes are being challenged in the process. Thus, I would like to speak about these fundamental believes which constitute the basis of resistance.

Sex and Violence in Rape

People often look at rape as a form of sexual expression. For this, a lot of blame is put on women e.g., women get raped because they dress in an inviting way. However, advocates and academics are trying to tell the public that rape is not just about sexual expression. It is actually about violence and an expression of power of one over the other. Rape can also be an expression of hatreds.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the two dimensions of rape i.e., sex and violence. Michael Foucault, a French philosopher explained that there is a difference between someone getting a punch in his face and a man forcing his genital organ into a women's virgina. This difference gives rape a specific status i.e., rape is about sex in a patriarchal society.

Sex is too complicated for the State to understand

It should be noted that Thai society has been influenced by the Western thinking with regards to the negative perception about sex i.e., sex is evil and dirty. We then created a discourse that sex needs to be strictly controlled. The only acceptable form of sex is the one within a marriage institution and which is done for the purpose of procreation.

Therefore, the family unit provides a space for legitimate sex while marriage certificate provides a "license to rape". Now, when women advocates started to say that it is illegal for husband to force their wife to have sex with them, they are challenging the most fundamental belief of legitimate sex within a marriage institution. There are many people--both men and women--who think that it's right for a wife to be forced to have sex with her husband.

Critique on the Campaign

We are going around in a circle talking about gender, power, violence and the family. The family unit, which is to be the last hope for our problem is the site of gender reproduction. Male supremacy and double standard on sexuality are both reproduced within the family unit.

Thus, it is time that certain existing practices in the family unit must be questioned. We must question family institution in which women are kept in pain, and where outsiders are prevented from extending their help to the women. We cannot live in this kind of family. I feel that we need to seriously discuss this issue and ask what kind of family that can be our hope.

It is noticeable that not many men have participated in the Campaign. Perhaps they also do not want to read or hear about it. This is because the issue is so close to the heart that it hurts when talking about. How many men would think that this is about the rule and structure of society? They would mostly feel condemned and do not want to hear about it. Even some women do not want to hear about this. So, it is a challenge to rethink our strategy so that the Campaign can communicate with larger audience both men and women.

Finally, we must remember that there are more than one discourse on gender and family. Although there may be one dominating discourse, others will keep surfacing and keep challenging the dominant one. So, our strategy is also to get people to engage in the debates & discussions in a constructive way. This is another important task that our movement needs to consider and push forward.

Free All Women from Rape: Background of the campaign for the abolition of marital rape

"Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of this right is vital to their life and well-being and their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life. Health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Platform for Action, United Nations 4th World Conference on Women, September 1996

A good relationship between man and woman is based, among others, on a sexual relationship, that involves shared decisions and mutual consent and is free from the use of violence.

But in reality there are a significant number of women who do not have the power to protect themselves from the violence of their husbands. Many women do not feel the need to engage in a sexual relation and that is often the reason why they become victims of violence. Another reason results from avoiding sexual contact out of fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In some cases women are no longer living with their husbands, but are still forced to perform sexual acts, which has a direct impact on their health and in the long run, on society as a whole.

The Thai Criminal Law on sexual offense does not offer any protection to marital rape. It is comparable to giving husbands the right to rape their wives. The Criminal Code article 276 state that "Anyone rape other women who is not your wife is guilty..... In the past, Thai law encouraged the view that women are buffaloes and men are persons. Although nowadays a lot of changes have been made regarding the equality of women and men, this view still prevails. Therefore Thai women have never been the owners of their lives and have never been able to make decisions about their sexuality. This law can be seen as violating women's human rights, in that it deprives them of the capacity to control and make decisions about sex, thus making it extremely difficult to maintain physical, sexual and mental health.

Women's organisations and legal experts have been trying for years to amend this sexist law. In 1997 the National Commission for the Advancement of Women submitted a proposal calling for a change of the law. The suggested change of phrase was "Anyone who rape other persons is found guilty....." in order to offer legal protection to wives by enabling them to take action against their husbands. However, the Council of States did not agree with the proposal but offered to modify the law by adding the specification. This only gives protection to raped wives in two instances. One, if the husband has a communicable disease that could be dangerous for a second party, and two, if the couple lives separately under a court order for at least three years.

It looks as if it was accepted and permitted that a husband can rape his wife. This law goes against the Thai Constitution which emphasizes everyone's equal right to protection by the law (article 30), protection of life and body (article 31), and the protection of our children and members of our family against torture of various forms (article 53).

Since the March 8 2002, the International Women's Day, a campaign for the abolition of the husbands' right to rape their wives, for the change of the Criminal Code article 276 took place in order to create equality and eradicate discrimination against women. It will enable women to receive equal legal protection from the law. It also build new form of relationship between husbands and wives and eradicate the rooted belief in Thai society that women are men's treasure that encourages men to commit domestic violence, including sexual offences, to their wives and partners.

Backing for bid to outlaw spousal rape Little progress on amendment so far

by Ploenpote Atthakor Bangkokpost Friday 22 November 2002

Prominent law-makers yesterday backed an amendment to the Criminal Code to make rape within marriage an offence.

Democrat deputy leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thai Rak Thai MP. Lalita Rirksamran and senator Rabiabrat Pongpanich agreed that the law as it stood was irrelevant.

A survey, conducted in Bangkok and Nakhon Sawan by a women's network, found that almost half the respondents had suffered physical and sexual assaults by their husbands or partners.

Wanchai Rutchanawonge, of the Thailand Criminal Law Institute, said little progress had been made on amending the law which began in 1995.

The institute was working with women's groups on a campaign to remove the exemption on spousal rape under article 276 of the Criminal Act.

Women's groups were collecting 50,000 signatures to garner support from the public, and several forums had been organised.

Mr Wanchai said the Council of State was at odds with activists because of its reservations about an amendment which prohibited spousal rapes in two cases, acts husbands carrying deadly communicable diseases, and when the couple were separated by a court order.

The amendment excluded other vulnerable groups, including boys and gay people.

Mr. Abhisit said the government should be urged to speed up the amendment process.

However, he believed the change to the Criminal Code was not enough and other social mechanisms should be put into place.

"An education campaign to end family violence is equally important," he said.

The amendment should also be complemented by another law, which addressed violence in the family, while a parallel process offering immediate help was needed before a case was reported to police or sent to court.

A special agency, probably a network of social organisations, would offer victims advice, protection and mental rehabilitation while such service would be made available at district--level.
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Publication:Voices of Thai Women
Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:May 1, 2003
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