BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thailand stepped up efforts to tackle sexual harassment on Tuesday, pledging to protect victims who come forward and to investigate complaints of abuse experienced by one in five Thais.
The Southeast Asian country wants more women to report sexual assault endured in the workplace and its cabinet has unveiled plans to shield those who do from unfair dismissals.
“The prime minister has stressed that disciplinary action will be taken (against wrongdoers) and that those who file complaints are protected,” said Social Development and Human Security Minister Juti Krairerk.
The government offered few details about how it would implement the measures but vowed to set up a walk-in centre in Bangkok where the general public could report sexual violence.
A survey conducted last year by market research firm YouGov found one in five Thais experienced sexual harassment.
Nearly 90 percent of rape cases go unreported, according to the United Nations and local media often carry stories detailing graphic attacks on women.
The global #MeToo movements encouraging women from the United States to India to speak up appears to have had little effect in Thailand, despite local efforts to force progress.
But rights groups said Tuesday’s move could encourage more women to come forward.
“There have been few complaints in the past because the victims are afraid of their harassers who are usually their bosses,” said Usa Lerdsrisuntad, director of Thailand’s Foundation for Women programme.
“We need to ensure that they are protected and will not be laid off or prevented from being promoted.”
Thailand’s labour law includes offences related to sexual assault but the country has not ratified an International Labour Organisation treaty which offers protection for informal workers.
“If you’re a domestic worker, for instance, and you are raped inside your employer’s house, it will be very difficult to leave the house to report the case to the police,” said Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former human rights commissioner on gender equality and women’s rights.
She questioned whether cases investigated by agencies would make it to court and said the government should introduce measures to prevent sexual harassment in the private sector.
Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org
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