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Homelessness and women’s safety ‘Huge problem

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

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

Ignored problems?

Jaded Chouwilai, director of the Women’s and Men’s Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP), said that as far as he knew, no candidate for this governor election had mentioned Bangkok’s high murder rate.

Of the 384 murders reported in newspapers in 2019, 70 percent occurred in the capital city.

“Also waiting for attention from gubernatorial candidates are domestic violence, sexual violence, and other threats women are facing,” he commented.

Even after Prinn Panitchpakdi quit as Democrat Party deputy leader and member over sexual-assault allegations, those running for Bangkok governor have continued to focus on their originally prepared election policies.

When asked about the scandal engulfing Prinn, Democrat Party candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat simply said it should have no impact on his campaign.

On policies for women, frontrunner Chadchart Sittipunt mentioned handing out free sanitary pads. A female candidate, former senator Rosana Tositrakul, also said that if elected she would ensure impoverished women could get such necessities for free.

Female candidates’ focus

Three women are taking part in the gubernatorial race. 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 has addressed domestic violence, despite the large number of women in Bangkok who fall victim to assault at home every year.

In a survey conducted last October of female Bangkokians aged over 20, 53.1 percent said they had faced verbal violence at home while 20 percent said they had been physically assaulted by family members.

Jaded said domestic violence had intensified since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Loss of jobs or income security has hit many households hard, straining emotions and causing family ties to falter. But City Hall has failed to tackle the fallout of that 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 Bangkok governor will nudge the BMA into working proactively to prevent domestic violence.

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

Jaded recalled that back in 2005, a female deputy Bangkok governor – Pensri Pichaisanit – had in fact expressed a keen interest in tackling domestic abuse and pushed the BMA to allocate 50 million baht for the purpose.

“I am not sure if such funds are still available or used for this cause,” the activist added.

Housing for urban poor?

Bangkok is now home to more than 1,000 so-called slums or deprived overcrowded communities. According to the Community Organisations Development Institute, which operates 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 big cities end up living with their families in rooms no larger than 3.5 x 4 meters. Rented out at just 1,000 baht to 2,000 baht per month, these rooms are neither furnished nor equipped with basic facilities.

And despite the low rent, the occupants risk getting kicked out if they lose their jobs and income.

An estimated 15 percent of these tenants fall behind with their rent and finally end up on the streets.

Human Settlement Foundation’s Somporn Hanprom said gubernatorial candidates should show understanding of the housing problems facing people living in the capital because these problems relate to many other social issues.

“If the Bangkok governor is going to solve problems, a holistic approach is required,” Somporn commented.

From his observations, only three of the 30 candidates have put forward housing policies. However, these policies barely touch on the problems 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 homeless people or those who had just arrived in the capital in search of jobs. But this shelter was closed a few years ago after Pol General Aswin Kwanmuang was appointed to serve as Bangkok governor.

The retired policeman was handed the BMA’s top post by special order of the junta following the 2014 military coup. After governing Bangkok for the past six years, Aswin has stepped down to contest the gubernatorial election.

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

“Without support, some tenants suffer a very low 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, nearly half of them do not have a registered address in the city.

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

No home, no hope

A 2021 survey conducted by the Department of Social Development and Welfare forecast that 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 true problem.) Of the total number of homeless people, about 30 percent will be in Bangkok.

Issarachon Foundation’s secretary-general Achara Sornwaree hopes the gubernatorial candidates will help homeless people by giving them access to welfare and the ability to exercise their rights as citizens.

“The COVID-19 crisis also raises the risk of people becoming homeless,” she pointed out.

Of all provinces in Thailand, Bangkok has the largest population of people with mental health problems 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 according to the law, these mental patients should be admitted to state medical facilities without delay.

“I hope the BMA will work alongside police in helping these patients get off the streets and into state hospitals,” Thiranan said.

The project’s chief Sittipong Chuprachong said homeless and mentally ill women also faced a high risk of sexual assault. He thus hoped that the new Bangkok governor would pay serious attention to the city’s homeless.

He added that where possible, BMA-run hospitals should open wards for mental patients too.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk

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