Thailand’s Young Female Faces Shadow UNICEF Thailand’s Representative
We welcomed two young women to our team on International Women’s Day
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Yanisa Sirisomboonchok (Pai) and Monprariya Lobnongbua (Biwtie) were selected from almost 100 applicants to the ‘Ambassador for a Day’ initiative, to shadow female Ambassadors and United Nations heads of agencies for a day.
“This year’s International Women’s Day amid a global pandemic highlights the transformative power of women’s equal participation – with women holding communities and economies together as mothers and essential workers and keeping their countries on track for recovery as leaders. It’s time to build an equal future, and what better way to start than with welcoming these bright young women to UNICEF Thailand to participate in our work for building a better life for every child,” said UNICEF Representative for Thailand, Kyungsun Kim. “Our hope is to empower young women like Pai and Biwtie with a taste of leadership in international civil service and build a bridge between their aspirations and future achievements.”
The Representative and 15 other female ambassadors and heads of UN agencies met with Pai, Biwtie and 25 other winners of the Ambassador for a Day competition at the Swiss Embassy on March 7. This was a chance to get acquainted with the young faces of Thailand before they shadowed the women leaders on March 8 and to learn more about how they were tackling gender inequality in their communities, the topic of their three-minute video application for the competition.
Like many young women her age, 20-year-old Pai enjoys a good Thai soap opera. But when she put pen to paper to write an essay for her class at university, she was finally able to articulate what had long troubled her about this popular form of entertainment – its portrayal of sexual assault. She aims to raise awareness on social media about rape culture in TV shows and movies and their real world implications for young men and women.
“The term ‘date rape’ does not exist in Thai, which just goes to show the lack of awareness and even legitimization of sexual violence,” she said. “I grew up in a loving and caring family, and yet rape culture had been influencing me for years because of the simple fact that I watch TV.”
Twenty-four-year-old Biwtie works at a non-profit organization to protect women and children in Southeast Asia from sexual exploitation and trafficking. She channelled her feelings of helplessness when she witnessed domestic violence in her community to pursue law school and raise awareness about gender-based violence at youth forums and women’s shelters.
“Women are not born vulnerable. We are born with a voice and are entitled to human rights,” she said. “I started my activism by speaking out for a women’s rights defender who was prosecuted in Iran, helping educate a survivor of human trafficking at a women’s shelter and collecting survival packs for single mothers affected by COVID-19.”
After touring the UN premises, the young women were introduced to the 73-year history of UNICEF in Thailand. They learned about how the organization has expanded its focus from child health and nutrition to include the importance of early childhood development, adolescent health and participation, quality education and the protection of every child.
“I think that most people associate UNICEF with fundraising in Thailand, but I now see that’s just one part of it. It was great to connect the dots and see how their child rights approach feeds into everything from their advocacy to their partnerships with influencers and youth themselves,” said Pai.
Biwtie was no stranger to the organization’s history as a dedicated UNICEF Youth Committee member and met with the Child Protection team to learn more about its work on preventing bullying in schools and online.
“As a law student, my focus has been on legislation as a tool for human rights. But even though there are laws for child protection in Thailand, today I have come to understand that implementation is just as important as legislation,” she said.
Passionate about ensuring access to education for every child, Pai met with the Education team to feed her curiosity about school reform in Thailand. Education can help address the root causes of many problems facing children and young people, including the issue of consent, she noted.
Over lunch, the Representative and young women’s conversations drifted to the personal challenges faced by women in leadership, such as dealing with unconscious gender bias from others and even from themselves – challenging the assumption that the man in the room must be the boss.
“It was important for our shadow representatives to see the big picture when it comes to the key roles and contributions of women in leadership especially amid a global pandemic, which is why they also joined our Representative in an interactive dialogue on ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 World,’” said Communication Officer Monthalee Songphatanayothin. “I was thrilled to see them inspired by evidence on how women running countries, businesses and social movements are driving progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals and an inclusive recovery from the pandemic.”
Pai and Biwtie left the office brimming with new ideas and opportunities to seize. But they were not the only ones inspired that day – the shadow representatives had also shed a bright light on key areas for UNICEF Thailand to explore and build on in its work for young women.