Homelessness and Women’s Safety: Huge Issues Bangkok Governor Candidates Won’t Touch

Bangkok has had as many as 30 gubernatorial candidates, but none have paid serious attention to its acute problems of domestic violence, women’s safety and homelessness.

Statistics show that the capital has the highest rate of domestic violence, murders and homelessness in Thailand.

Issues ignored?

Jaded Chouwilai, director of the Women’s and Men’s Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP), said he was not aware of any gubernatorial candidate who had mentioned Bangkok’s high murder rate.

Of the 384 murders reported in newspapers in 2019, 70% took place in the capital.

“Domestic violence, sexual violence and other threats women face also await the attention of gubernatorial candidates,” he commented.

Even after Prinn Panitchpakdi stepped down as deputy leader and member of the Democratic Party following allegations of sexual assault, Bangkok’s gubernatorial candidates continued to focus on their initially prepared election policies.

Asked about the scandal that engulfed Prinn, Democratic Party candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat simply said it should have no impact on his campaign.

On policies for women, favorite Chadchart Sittipunt mentioned the free distribution of sanitary napkins. One candidate, former senator Rosana Tositrakul, also said that if elected, she would ensure that poor women can get these basic necessities for free.

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Focus on candidates

Three women are running for governor. The other two are Thita Rangsitpol Manitkul and Sasikarn Wattanachan. All three are campaigning hard to attract voters across the capital.

Yet, surprisingly, no female candidate addressed domestic violence, despite the large number of women in Bangkok who are assaulted at home every year.

In a survey last October of Bangkok women over the age of 20, 53.1% said they had been verbally abused at home while 20% said they had been physically attacked by family members.

Jaded said domestic violence has escalated since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The loss of jobs or income security has hit many households hard, straining emotions and weakening family ties. But the town hall has failed to cope with the fallout from this stress, according to Jaded.

“I have to say that over the past year, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration [BMA] has done little to address domestic violence.

However, he still holds out hope that the next governor of Bangkok will push the BMA to work proactively to prevent domestic violence.

“The BMA should actually be able to solve the problem via health volunteers,” he said, referring to a resource that already exists.

Jaded recalled that in 2005, a deputy governor of Bangkok – Pensri Pichaisanit – actually expressed a strong interest in tackling domestic violence and pushed the BMA to allocate 50 million baht for this purpose.

“I don’t know if these funds are still available or used for this cause,” added the activist.

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Housing for the urban poor?

Bangkok is now home to more than 1,000 so-called slums or overcrowded deprived communities. According to the Community Organizations Development Institute, which falls under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, registered slum communities alone number 1,270.

Non-governmental organizations have revealed that many migrant workers in Bangkok and other major cities end up living with their families in rooms no larger than 3.5 x 4 meters. Rented at only 1,000 baht to 2,000 baht per month, these rooms are not furnished or equipped with basic facilities.

And despite the low rent, the occupants are at risk of being kicked out if they lose their jobs and income.

It is estimated that 15% of these tenants fall behind in their rent and end up on the street.

Somporn Hanprom of the Human Settlement Foundation said gubernatorial candidates should show an understanding of the housing issues facing residents of the capital, as these issues are linked to many other social issues.

“If the Governor of Bangkok wants to solve the problems, a holistic approach is needed,” commented Somporn.

According to his observations, only three of the 30 candidates proposed housing policies. However, these policies barely address the issues faced by tenants.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, many have become homeless,” Somporn said.

He added that the BMA used to run a shelter for the homeless or those who had just arrived in the capital looking for work. But this refuge was closed a few years ago after the appointment of Pol General Aswin Kwanmuang as governor of Bangkok.

The retired policeman was given the top BMA post by special order of the junta following the 2014 military coup. After ruling Bangkok for the past six years, Aswin resigned to challenge the gubernatorial election.

Somporn complained that under the rigid rules currently adopted by the BMA, funding is only provided to densely populated registered communities. The many unregistered communities spread across the capital therefore lack support.

“Without support, some tenants suffer from a very poor quality of life,” he commented.

Somporn estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of Bangkok residents live in the capital as low-rent tenants. It should be noted that while some 10 million people live in Bangkok, almost half of them do not have a registered address in the city.

“The BMA should also understand this group of residents,” he said.

No home, no hope

A 2021 survey by the Ministry of Social Development and Welfare predicts the official number of homeless people in Thailand will rise from 2,710 to 3,534 this year. (These official figures are thought to represent only a fraction of the real problem.) Of the total number of homeless people, around 30% will be in Bangkok.

Issarachon Foundation Secretary General Achara Sornwaree hopes the gubernatorial candidates will help the homeless by giving them access to welfare and the ability to exercise their rights as citizens.

“The COVID-19 crisis is also increasing the risk of people becoming homeless,” she stressed.

Of all the provinces in Thailand, Bangkok has the largest population of people with mental health issues living in public spaces.

According to a 2021 survey, there were 463 mentally ill homeless people living in Bangkok.

Thiranan Chuayming of the Street Patient Project said that by law, such mental patients should be admitted to public medical institutions without delay.

“I hope the BMA will work alongside the police to help these patients get off the streets and into public hospitals,” Thiranan said.

Project leader Sittipong Chuprachong said homeless and mentally ill women were also at high risk of sexual assault. He thus hoped that the new governor of Bangkok would pay serious attention to the homeless in the city.

He added that where possible, BMA-run hospitals should also open wards for the mentally ill.

By General Office of Thai PBS World

Mara R. Wilmoth