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Subverting the women's fund
AuthorDefaultA…    文章CopyFromhttp://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/281119/subverting-a-fund-meant-to-help-women    Hits448    UpdateTime2012-2-23    

 

  • Published: 23/02/2012 at 03:47 AM
  • Newspaper section: News

    Help the mother, and you help her whole family. Who can argue with that? Why then has the 7.7-billion-baht Women's Fund got the thumbs-down from many women's rights groups and legal experts? The answer lies in their common concern regarding abuse for political gain. This is a real concern.

    During her election campaign, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she would allot each province a 100-million-baht women's fund. She announced this policy at the National Council of Women of Thailand, where her elder sister was once president and still enjoys wide influence. The message was not missed _ that if she won the election, the Women's Council and its nationwide members would play an important role in the fund's management.

    Right from the start, rights-based women's groups have been calling for Ms Yingluck to allow public participation in the management of women's funds _ to no avail. In short, they wanted transparency. They wanted to know who would manage the fund and how to ensure that the money reaches women with real needs, instead of being concentrated among those in the political network of Pheu Thai Party.

    They also wanted the fund to focus more on empowerment instead of sticking to the belief that money is the cure-all. For it has been proven that the focus on income-generating for women's development, which has been embraced by successive governments, has failed to ease the deeply-rooted structural problems which keep women down.

    Despite their calls, they learned about the fund's details only after the PM's Office had published them as a ministerial regulation in the Royal Gazette on Feb 17, one day before the fund was launched with much fanfare at Government House.

    Many of the concerns of these women's rights groups have been proven right. To start with, the administrative structure of the fund is closely linked to the state's top-down administration. This allows easy intervention by political parties currently in power.

    Although the women's fund committee in each province must be elected, those eligible to vote and apply for financial support come from a very narrow base. According to the fund's requirements, if you fail to apply for fund membership within a set deadline, you cannot vote or apply for any financial support.

    Why operate a fund with such a limited base of applicants?

    The Legal Reform Committee chaired by prominent law scholar Kanit Na Nakorn is asking the same question.

    The principle of fund allocation must be based on equal access for all. "Why create a loophole which benefits only certain groups of women who have registered with the fund?" asked the committee in a letter of policy recommendation to the prime minister this week.

    The Legal Reform Committee has also expressed disapproval with the government's move to place the fund's management under ministerial rules and regulations without public consultation.

    The sum of 7.7 billion baht is a huge amount of taxpayers' money. It will also put the country under more public debt. Creating a special bill to manage the fund with approval from parliament should have been the way to go.

    The committee also describes the PM's handling of the women's fund as lacking in transparency and public participation. "The fund should promote women's opportunities and empower them to attain gender justice. It should not be a fund to respond to political parties' voting bases," it adds.

    How to fix these flaws, then?

    While the women's fund focuses on low-interest loans and financial support for women's projects that are proposed, the country badly needs a more sustainable policy mechanism to address gender inequality and disparity at the structural level.

    This is what the draft bill on gender equality promotion aims to do. The draft has been put on the backburner for far too long. Speed it up, urges the Legal Reform Committee.

    This advice should be heeded. If not, Ms Yingluck risks being long remembered as the woman who wrongly used women's causes to serve her Pheu Thai Party's political gains.


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