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What women gain from decentralisation? (1).

The concept of decentralization of central power to local administration has been materialised in 1993 when the Sub--District Council and TAO Act (Sub--District Administrative Organisation) has been enacted. The current implementation of administrative decentralisation is more concrete with provisions in several decrees. These provisions affect the implementation of decentralisation policy at the level of local organisations in the future. It is laid out in the law that any local administrative organisation that is considered capable of accepting the missions and responsibility should be given the respective authorization from the central governmnet within the period of 4-10 yeras. The local administrative organizations must own income to be not less than 20 per cent of the government income in the year 2001, and not less than 35 per percent in 2006 (2)

No Special Measures to Promote the Participation of Women in the Local Administrative Organisations

The decrees on decentralisation does not have any special measures to promote the role of women in the local administrative organisations. The benefit the women would gain from decentralisation depends on specific social and cultural context. For example, with their responsibility to take care and support the family, the women could not play active role in the public sphere and would not benefit substantially from decentralisation of power. The power and interest would go only to the hands of certain group of people and most of them are men.

This report came out of the consolidation of opinions of various women's groups. Majority of them based in the rural areas. Consequently, this report would focus particularly on what women gain from the decentralisation of power to the Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO).

What Women Really Gain from Decentralisation of Power to the Local Administrative Organisation.

Primarily, decentralisation provides the women the rights to vote and to be elected. The women get chance to vote for the candidate they prefer and to run for election of the members of the local administrative organisations. This has contributed in improving women's role in the public sphere. However, the proportion of women elected is still low as it was clearly shown in the latest election of TAOs in 2000 that only 8.3 percent of the sucessful candidates are women while men comprise more than 90 percent.

The Struggle in TAO Election

The women who would like to be member of the TAO committee have faced many obstacles. Even they have all the required qualifications, capability and the commitment to work for the people, it is extremely difficult for women to accepted in the local politics. "Before I became the member of TAO, I had to fight with the powerful people in the village.

Moreover, the women must be equipped with all the qualifications and must have higher "capital" than other male candidates. They must have social and economic capital while they must also have higher education and no history of morally unacceptable relationship.

"In some districts, there are only 6 women members out of 40 members of the TAO Assembly. The ones who can win the vote are those most powerful."

"What they can accuse us the most is about sexual affairs. So far, I have to be careful about the relationship with men and without any stigma of being bad women."

"It's difficult for a woman to be part of the TAO. During the campaign, some men buy votes by offering drinks. The women do not buy vote nor drink. Even in the case that women offer drinks to people, this would discredit them."

In the TAO fighting ground, the women have lots of disadvantages in terms of the acceptance from the society.

"Mostly the society, or the men, do not accept us. They always say that women do not have credibility."

"It is difficulty for the ethnic women to get a seat in the TAO. We can get a seat only when there is no man with Thai language proficiency in the community. In such community, if there is a woman who knows Thai, she will get the seat. But if there is an equal capable man or even less capable man, he will get the seat first."

Even if you are highly capable woman, you might not get the seat either. "If we are more capable, it's not so good. They will not vote for us. This is the case where we are oppressed in the society."

Moreover, the cronyism that combines family relationship with business interests, is another obstacle for women to win the election.

"I used to run for TAO election. But they (other candidates) have lots of friends and relatives. Our group is small. They are also educated. So I did not win the vote."

"Some TAO's executive members have hidden agenda to abuse the position to facilitate their own business. Some of them want to get construction contracts or investment."

Changes When Women Have Become Part of the TAO

Once the women get seats in TAO committee, there are some changes recognized. The male and female TAO members have different perspectives, both in the administration and in development works. The women reflect that the male TAO always give more attention to the construction of basic infrastructures.

"Mostly they (male TAO members) give exphasis on building road and public infrastructure. The education campaign and social prevention work do not have instant concrete outcomes. But if they build a road, it will be seen and they will be credited."

"When we talk about the development in the village, the TAO will not discuss about the problems of women or their vocational development. They will just only build new road or the meeting hall. They just want to build this and that."

The women in the TAO would think more about the human security and the living conditions of the family and community than about building infrastructure. This difference in perception has provoked some dynamic changes within the TAO.

"The man wants to repair the road or dug the canal. Let them do those things. We are women. We live with the family. So we know well how the family should run and how the family could feed itself. When the women take part in development work, many vocational groups emerged."

Having women in TAO also have some positive aspects for women and youth in the community. For instance, more attention will be paid to the development and welfare of children in the community.

"From my experience in working with female members of TAO, they support the projects on children. They encourage information campaign for the children. We learnt that there is some budget in the TAO for the development of the youth, which we could really get benefits from."

Furthermore, presence of female members in the TAO encourages and ensures women in the community easier access to the TAO.

"If we have women representatives in the TAO, it is easier for other women in the community to contact them for consultation unlike the case with male members that if you approach them too casually then you will be accused of having an affair with them."

"Moreover, when we consult with the male representatives, they would think that the problems we are facing are domestic matters that deserve less serious attention. When we came to know their biased attitudes and perspectives toward women in the community and women's issues in general, we were totally discouraged to bring up the issues for consultation with TAOs."

It has been also reported that some groups of women could not get the rights to vote. They are the ethnic minority women who do not have Thai citizenship or have not been included in the national census. "There are altogether about one million ethnic minority people. Only about 400,000 of them have been officially recorded." Without citizenship, the ethnic women cannot elect their own representatives, and this prevents them to get access to other rights too. Against this, female representatives in the TAO are considered to be in a better position than male members to reflect real needs of marginalized in the policy-making and thus enhance their livelihoods.

Internal--politics: Obstacles of the Women in TAO

Even when the female members wish to redistribute the budget for the improvement of the living quality of the people in the community, in reality they face numbers of obstacles. One major problem identified is decision making process that is still mostly in the hands of the men.

"In the TAO Executive committee, even there is a clear policy, in practice, what counts most is the interpersonal relationships. If we are there without friends, it's almost impossible to propose any project."

"When I was first in the executive, I was taken very lightly. The member who is the head of the village did not agree with me. He is so powerful. In the assembly, personal relationship is important. Thus when they vote, they vote for their friends. We never know what is the real government policy."

If women play more active role in TAO, they could change the lives of many groups of people in the community. The TAO however, used to be men's domain. The women have to fight alone as illustrated in the following case studies.

Case study 1:

Blood is thicker than water

"When I was elected the second time, the women cannot say anything. The men would think that blood is thicker than water. They would support each other, no matter of right or wrong. In the first meeting period, when we were considering the additional budget of the year 2002, I, as the presentative of the Committee on women development of sub-district level, proposed the budget on women. That day they might not be satisfied with my words.

The next day, the Chair of the executive committee simply resigned. We then automatically lost our position as the executive members within two hours. There was re-election. They already lobby the vote. And I was no longer member of the excutive committee."

Case study 2:

Threats from Influential people

"I took the raped girl to report at the police station. The rapist was the relative of a very powerful member of the provincial assembly. On the 12 August (the National Mother Day), I was awarded as Outstanding Woman of the District. I must go to the District Administrative Office to receive my award. The rapist's relative approched me and hurt me in the District Office. The head of village and some colleagues rescued me. Then we went to report the case at the police station. The police said that we are so brave to file the case against that family. The Chair of the board committee of the TAO is also his relative. I could not live in the community for some time. I escaped to the safe place. They then put pressure on me by calling for a special meeting (of the TAO). I must have to attend the meeting. I feel insecure. I was threatened to be crushed by a truck.

Decentralization: the Starting Point for Change

To summarize, the women still do not satisfy with what they gain from the power decentralisation, both in the decision-making process and as the beneficiary. But the women started to see the channel where they can participate in the TAO, for example, by proposing the project and by monitoring the administration of the TAO.

From the Foundation for Women's experiences in working with the volunteers in the communities, FFW has found that by providing the information on social issue and the problems of the women and children, and by enhancing women, children, and youth groups' role and capability to work with the TAO's executive members, some TAO began to realize the necessity of supporting the projects that serve the needs of women and children.

Although the budget that the TAO allocates for women and children is less than 1 per cent of the overall budget, it is a good start in promoting the participation of women and children in the community. This also benefits the activities that provide assistance to women and children suffering from sexual and domestic violence. All these would help in preventing and solving the problems in the future.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

Overall, the women's opinions reflect their willingness to participate in decentralisation process. They propose the policy that ensures the women's participaion in the TAO and the development of women's participation in the local administration. In order to reach those objectives, the women propose the following recommendations:

1). Dissemination of information on decentralisation policy to the people

"We must inform the local people what the TAO is so that they could monitor its function and achievement".

"We should give academic support to the women in the locality and equip them with the tools of wisdom."

"The people must be aware of their own role and responsibiltiy in the community. The State must urgently create this understanding among the people. If the people don't know their responsibity, they could not make effective use of the decentralisation policy."

2) Quota system of women members in TAOs

"The government should set up the quota of female member involved in TAO such in the case of village funds whereas there is a rule that women must constitute half of the committee. If there are women members less than half, there must be re-election. There are some regulations that the half of the committee members must be women but this is not done in practice."

3). Budget Allocation

"When the State gives support to the TAO, they should have some budget specifically allocated to the development of women. For instance, 30 per cent of the TAO budget must be allocated to the projects in women and children development. It should be prohibited from using this proportion of budget for construction project."

"There should be some adjustment in the budget for administration and for local development. The administrative budget should be reduced. About 70% of the administrative budget is nw used for remuneration, travelling expenses and meeting per diem. This should be reduced to only 50%. Otherwise, there would be only few money left for the villagers."

"There should be some budget for inviting some organisations to give talk on domestic violence to the TAO. The TAO should know that they have some responsibility to solve such problem. Otherwise,the wmen will not feel comfortable to expose their problems and to consult with others. Women are also told that it's not acceptable to discuss about their family problems in public. That is wrong. The TAO should open up itself to other opinions and put more efforts to improve its services and function more beneficially to the community. Through this change the village itself would be tranformed into a better place for all people to live in."

4). Creating Better Attitudes of the TAO members Towards Giving Assistance to the Women and Children in the Community

"The TAO must support the youth group, especially the young women, to play more effective role in the activities continously. We sometime consider the youth as problematic such as durg addicts. The TAO must change such perspective. We need to involve youth themself to solve their own problems. It would be much more effective.

"The TAO should have the power to intervene with the abusive husbands, if they commit violence against us. And we should not be obliged to pay the fine."

"I want them to help the children with problem, whether the problem of domestic violence, or education. Whatever problems they face, we should try to help them."

Further Recommendations

"We should raise people's awareness on the local political affairs. We have to make people love their own community and do not allow to discriminate each other. The TAO we elected in the past has their own way of practice and support only the people they were related to not the people of whom really need help."

"In the TAO election, there should be certain rule that the TAO members must have been the member of the saving group for at least 2 years. The candidate must be prohibited from organising any kind of parties, either entertaining or election campaign functions for one month period before and after the election."

"If the state truely wishes to see te success of decentralization policy, they should follow the basic principle--that decision is in the hands of the community. People and the community must be consulted first. This principle of equal decision should be even on the permission to build a branch of multi-national store in the commnuity"

Moreover, there is an expectation that the women would mobilise themselves and run in a higher number for the position in TAO. There should be an alliance to support women to be members of TAO."

"I think that women must come out and talk more about their own rights. They have to leave the old cutoms that woman is the follower. and fight for our own rights. Our fight for rights should not be stopped at the sub--district level. We must share with others the straggle within the TAO and learn from each other."

Consequently, the present form of decentralisation could not meet the expectation of the women despite the fact that it should provide an opportunity to the local people to elect their representative to manage their own public affairs. In reallity, women still cannot participate effectively in the decision-making process. They are denied full participation in running for election, and excluded from being member of TAO's executive commitee, and cannot have significant role in the civil society to propose the idea and to monitor the work of the TAO. Moreover, the women could not get full benefit from decentralisation since the most of projects implemented by the TAO still lack of the social development perspective especially regarding women and those socially marginalized.

(1) The information in this report was consolidated from 1. The Forum on What Women Gain from Decentralization which was organised twice. The Forum in the North East region was organised on 12 September 2002 in Khon Kaen. There were about 90 participants from different provinces. The Forum in the North region was organised in 16 September 2002 in Chiang Mai. There were about 60 participants from Chiang Mai and other nearby provinces. These Forum were organised by The Alliance for the Advancement of Women led by the Foundation for Women, Working group on Gander and Development, Northeastern Women Network and Northern Women Network 2. The meeting of the women suffering from domestic violence organised on 14 September 2002 in Bangkok. The meeting was organised by the Foundation for Women, and 3. Report of the Project on Building Network of Local Volunteerfor women and children, Foundation for Women.

With the support of King Prachadhipok Institute and the Committee on Decentralisation of Power to the Local Administrative Organisation, the Office of the Secretary of the Prime Minister

(2) According to the Act and Plan on Decentralization to Local Government.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Foundation for Women
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Publication:Voices of Thai Women
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:3158
Previous Article:Foundation for women and acitivities in 2002.
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