During the summer break this year, I came across a viral online movement in Thailand: #donttellmehowtodress and #tellmentorespect. These hashtags, mirroring the #metoo movement in the U.S., started after Songkran—an annual celebration of Thai New Year and water festival that took place in April. According to a survey conducted by Thailand’s Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, half the women in a group of 1,650 had experienced some form of sexual harassment during Songkran. Hence, the Department of Local Administration of Thailand advised Thai women to not dress in attire that seemed provocative to avoid sexual harassment.
Furthermore, Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime minister of Thailand, stated, “There are laws governing indecent exposure, which will be enforced.” On the other hand, there were no warnings issued by the government regarding male clothing. The statement prompted women to speak up and advocate for a change in mindset, making international headlines.
The campaign was initially started by a Thai-American supermodel, Cindy Bishop, who decided to speak out on the issue. She posted a video, sharing her perspectives and explaining her intentions for the movement. She was convinced “this sort of thinking is why women’s rights in our country are way behind others.” Bishop said she strongly believes that sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault and she disagrees with the government’s approach to the topic—blaming the victim rather than telling men to behave themselves.
Bishop’s message received positive feedback from Thai citizens and celebrities throughout major social media platforms. This inspired her to put her ideas into action. With the support from organizations such as UN Women, the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation of Thailand, and the Embassy of Canada, she created a social power exhibition displaying clothes that were worn by the victims proving that people wearing non-revealing clothes can also be sexually harassed. Furthermore, she conducted interviews of prominent Thai celebrities with an effort to empower women and change society’s mindset on the topic.
Some of the comments included:
- “How covered do I need to be in order to be safe”- Ranee Campen
- “I don’t need to be modest in order to be respected”- Opal Panisara
- “Every part of me deserves respect”- Metinee Kingpayom
- “Don’t measure a woman’s worth by what she wears”- Aokbab Chutimon
The movement’s main purpose was to empower women to speak up and share their stories. According to Anna-Karin Jatfors, the regional director of the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, “Around 41 percent of women in Thailand have experienced some form of sexual harassment,” but only “40 percent of that number have ever sought support and assistance.”
Personally, I understand the reason victims of sexual assault might feel reluctant to share their experience or even seek support. In Thailand, victims are often blamed for sexual harassment because of the way they dress, where they were, what time of day it was, etc. Every factor that contributes to why it might be “OK” for a man to harass them was the victim’s fault. How can one expect them to speak out?
The mindset that clothing is to be blamed for sexual harassment needs to change since no matter the length of her sleeves and shorts or the number of layers she has on, she can still become a victim of sexual assault. We should learn to respect not just a person’s body but also the person regardless of gender, wealth, emotion, or ethnicity.
Similarly at Woodstock and many other schools, the dress code is focused around females not showing too much skin whereas it is much more lenient for guys. Despite the dress code already being female-centered, it is enforced with a huge gender bias.
In my opinion, school institutions need to change the way they approach the dress code by enforcing rules equally amongst both genders. If a dress code cannot be implemented equally, then maybe there should be no dress code at all.
Clothing can never be provocative; it is all about mindset.