Shero Thailand, a non-profit organization which aims to eliminate gender-based violence in Thailand, launched the Lawyers for Women’s Rights (LWR) network on 29 January 2022 to train lawyers to provide legal aid and advocate for survivors of gender-based violence.
The Lawyers for Women's Rights network
The network aims to combat gender-based violence by providing legal aid for survivors of gender-based violence and advocating for survivor-centred legal procedures. Their capacity-building programme, funded by the Canadian Embassy’s Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), educates young lawyers about gender-based violence and train them in how to assist survivors as they go through the justice system. So far, the programme has trained 75 lawyers to become advocates for survivors of gender-based violence.
Human rights lawyer and Shero founder Busayapa Srisompong said that there are many challenges when survivors of gender-based violence try to seek justice, including the attitude of judicial personnel who do not understand gender-based violence cases. Many personnel do not understand the effect of trauma on the survivors, which may prevent them from giving clear testimony, and Busayapa noted that this is one of the challenges in the path of survivors when they go through the judicial process. She also said that survivors of gender-based violence do not have access to remedies, since there is no funding dedicated to supporting them while funding and task forces exist for other issues, such as human trafficking.
Meanwhile, the law does not seem to take gender-based violence seriously. Busayapa said that the lack of funding means that no one wants to work on gender-based violence cases, and those who do soon burn out, while policies relating to gender-based violence are not a priority. She also said that the law is designed for cases to be settled out of court. In some cases, Busayapa said, the authorities say that there is nothing they can do. She said that she has worked on cases of stalking and online sexual harassment, in which they were told by officials that there was nothing they could do and that the penalty would be very light.
“The law is designed to coerce victims so that they cannot easily stand up and demand their rights,” she said.
The culture of victim blaming in Thai society is also another issue preventing survivors from speaking out and exercising their rights. She said that the challenge is grounded in the bias presented in a social structure which blames victims even though only the perpetrators are responsible, in economic inequality, in a religion which tells survivors that the violence perpetrated against them originates in sins they committed in previous lives, in a media which stigmatizes and isolates them, or in families or communities which do not understand them.
“Even though we give information to [the survivors], or educate people in the community, if we don’t build an environment which can truly help to support them, change may not happen immediately,” she said.
Busayapa hopes that the LWR project will be a safe space for law students and lawyers who want to provide pro bono legal assistance to survivors of gender-based violence to acquire skills that are not taught in law schools, from active listening and providing psychosocial support to observation critical thinking skills.
“I hope that the network will be like our source of power, that we will be friends who travel together, because the path is likely to be long,” Busayapa said, “and I hope that in the next generation, if one day I get old and retire, this will be a dynamic that is still growing.”
Busayapa said that social media has raised awareness of gender-based violence, but this is not the case in legal circles, as people are still attached to a structure designed by conservative people who exercise power over others. She hopes that the network will be able to create a new standard based on mutual respect and not marginalizing others.
Busayapa said that it is a good thing that people are more aware, as gender-based violence is often swept under the rug and made into a domestic issue, and now that people have begun speaking out, others will follow. However, she said she is concerned and believes that it should not be necessary for survivors to speak out in public where they could be blamed for what happened, but can be done in safe spaces.
Now that people are becoming aware, Busayapa said, we need to create the right understanding, but she said that survivors should not be forced to speak out about what happened to them while they have to handle the stigmatization themselves. She would like survivors to speak out when they are ready and once their community has created the right environment for them to do so. Instead, one should respect the survivors’ choice to speak out when they are ready, to ask for help when they are ready, and to be there for them, not to pressure them into speaking out just because it is a trend, since there is no way of knowing what would happen to them once they do so.