Political and Domestic Violence in Southern, Thailand

Thailand’s southern provinces often overlook women’s struggles and suggest loyalty. In 2022, a woman was raped in Yala province, highlighting the need for Islamic institutions to address domestic abuse against Muslim women.

Oxfam’s Violence-against-Women project in southern Thailand aims to reduce violence against women through collaboration with Women Networks, local civil society, the Thai government, and Provincial Islamic Councils. In 2019, VAW reported 240 cases of violence against women in Narathiwat province alone, with the common causes being illegal drugs and gambling (48%), polygyny (33%), and other reasons (19%). In 2020, the Narathiwat and Yala Provincial Islamic Counselling offices reported 3,030 cases.

Conflict and violence have plagued the southernmost region of Thailand for nearly two decades, rooted in historical tensions between the Thai state and the Malay-Muslim population. Since 2004, clashes between Thai security forces and insurgent groups like the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) have resulted in over 7,000 deaths and more than 10,000 injuries. Conflict management and peace negotiations continue, but BRN violently pursues independence. Human rights abuses, including cordon-and-search operations and torture, persist in the region.

The case of Abdullah Esomuso, a 34-year-old suspected leader of an insurgent cell, highlights the ongoing tension in the area. In May 2022, the Thai court ruled that his death resulted from natural causes, specifically oxygen deprivation to the brain and heart failure during detention. Data from the Deep South Watch database indicates a 44% increase in violent incidents in 2021 compared to the previous year, suggesting that despite efforts at peace, violence remains prevalent in the region.

Macro-level violence, including confrontation between the insurgency and Thai state authorities, is well-known in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, while micro-level violence illustrates domestic violence that can occur in any family, household, or village. To decipher the structure of violence in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, both types of violence must be examined seriously.

Misconceptions about women’s rights in Islam have led to a global increase in domestic violence against women aged 15-49 by intimate partners. Bangladesh ranks fourth globally at 50%, while Afghanistan ranks sixth at 46%. This raises the question of why violence against women persists in Muslim societies, as Islam promotes peace and justice.

Islamic teachings emphasize equal partnership between men and women, with the Quran not specifying gender characteristics. Mosques for women exist in countries like China, Lebanon, and Denmark, where Sherin Khankan became the first female Imam. Surah An-Nisa, a chapter debated between male proponents and feminists, references women’s roles. Experts have diverse views on verse 34, which states that men are caretakers of women, while good and righteous women are loyal and safe-keepers. The Thai translation of this verse leans towards men, while the English version is more neutral.

The political conflict in Thailand’s southernmost regions is exacerbated by economic underdevelopment, extreme poverty, high illiteracy rates, and widespread illicit drug use. At the micro-level, patriarchy significantly influences power dynamics between Malay Muslim men and women, further exacerbated by conventional Islamic interpretations by religious leaders. This has led to the proliferation of domestic violence in the region.

In addition to macro-level violence, some Malay Muslims’ orientation towards Islamic virtues, such as ethics, conformity to a standard of righteousness, or moral excellence, also contributes to domestic violence in the region. For example, a child marriage case in 2018 involved a 41-year-old man from Malaysia and an 11-year-old girl from Narathiwat.

Patriarchy is deeply ingrained in the minds of many Malay Muslim women, who consider themselves inferior to men. Women often accept male social dominance, tolerate domestic violence, and remain silent despite abuse, as emotional dominance is crucial for successful violence, highlighting psychological barriers.

Narathiwat provinces reveal that domestic violence occurs to women and young boys, with Muslim women having an outlet to report to the Provincial Islamic Council. A 15-year-old boy was raped by his uncle, who threatened to kill him if he disclosed the ordeal. Boys whose family members are raped can easily slip through the cracks, fearing the humiliating social stigma they may bring to their families. Domestic violence victims in the Deep South face cultural resistance, unequal access to justice, and explicit discrimination, which they silently suffer under.

The prevalence of domestic violence in the southernmost region has been largely ignored by Thai security forces and rebel peace negotiators. Ngamsuk Ratanasatian, a Thai human rights advocate and lecturer at Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), observed that women in the region engage in peace-building efforts, but peace talks between the Thai state and the insurgency have not brought socio-political problems like domestic violence to the table.

An effective conflict resolution involves transforming the domestic violence issue into a robust conflict management plan, considering both macro-level and micro-level violence concurrently in peace process discussions. The question remains: how can both parties contribute to alleviating domestic violence, instead of solely focusing on ending combats?

The Juwae, devout Muslim militant fighters, are likely to treat women respectfully in the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) in the southernmost region of Thailand. The Juwae networks, which are widespread at the grassroots and village level, could potentially help in preventing violence against women. Eliminating the deeply entrenched patriarchal culture within the Malay-Muslim community presents a significant challenge for women, especially when the Islamic institution has been unsuccessful in its role as a mediator.

The southernmost region of Thailand is experiencing a surge in violence, not only between Thai security forces and insurgents but also within Malay-Muslim communities. The dominance of the Malay-Muslim patriarchal culture has desensitized violence against women, and many religious leaders and village councils tend to look away or be indiscreet when settling marriage disputes, putting the burden more on women.

Collaboration between Women Networks, civil society groups, Thai state authorities, religious leaders, and insurgency groups is crucial to addressing the social significance of Islamic virtues in Malay-Muslim communities. Peace negotiators must recognize the severe issue of domestic violence in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, as it is impossible to achieve peace without systematically addressing the issue within Muslim communities.

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