Women's Empowerment Fund: Hope for Thai Women

Amporn Boontan

“Challenging patriarchy does not necessarily mean getting into positions of power,” explains Amporn Boontan, Thailand’s regional coordinating group (RCG) representative for JASS Southeast Asia, after having been recently elected as a Sub-district Committee Leader of the Women's Empowerment Fund.

“I can use this role to start something. Women are actually waiting for action,” explains Amporn. She believes that her new position can help her in promoting the role of women, protecting women’s rights, and lobbying for more protective domestic violence laws. Echoing Amporn's vision, the Women's Empowerment Fund was established early this year to serve as a funding source for women who want to have better access to education, employment, and healthcare services.

Based in Chiang Mai, Amporn is embarking on a pilot project in microfinance for women. Although just an initial stage in a long process of securing financial sustainability to Thai women, getting the commitment of government through this Fund is nonetheless a great step forward. Amporn notes, “For this role, you have to know the way to understand the politics.  You have to perform and put yourself in the right position. When you are connected with government you have to make sure you cover the support of everyone. On the one hand, if you bring more strategy, it will help a lot.”

“Chiang Mai is an agricultural area. Women here are farmers. Some of them are working in handicraft factories. Women are wood crafters. They subcontract the work. They bring it home. The projects are usually the income-generating projects, for instance, the activity support for abused women. Another one is empowerment, like, building their skills.” ~ Amporn

However, the Fund also suffers from exclusionary challenges. Amporn observes, “This Fund is not all-encompassing. Women under the age of 15 cannot access the Fund. One has to be of the right age to become a member. We have to develop something to support them.” Despite her new position, Amporn's involvement with civil society groups continues. For example, the Thai Youth Action Program (TYAP) Foundation in which she is a Board member trains youth in HIV/Aids prevention, sexual and reproductive health, sexuality, gender, youth violence, harm reduction, and leadership skills.

Indeed, Amporn is a breath of fresh air in an environment where traditional politics operate. “There are only a few women activists community leaders involved with this Fund. This is a ‘politics movement,’” she adds. Undeniably, challenging the status quo involves a change in tactics. “Most people in the community usually wait for government to give money. Give them something different like Internet technology that will help them. They should be given a choice.” Amporn adds

With Thailand as the only country in Southeast Asia with a woman head of the state – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, efforts at financially empowering women such as those provided by the Fund do not only create jobs, activities, participation in politics and administration for local women, but also act as examples for other states to emulate.

The women’s movement in Thailand can “educate women and make them aware” about the Women's Empowerment Fund at the district level and even in the national level. JASS, in turn, can bring Thai women’s issues at the regional level. “JASS can also have pilot projects like what I’m doing right now.” Amporn concludes

Amporn Boontan lives and breathes the JASS vision as she works to empower women through the Women’s Empowerment Fund.  Amporn is undoubtedly JASS Southeast Asia’s pride.