Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva,Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva,Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, at The Symposium on Because I am A Girl 2010 Report “Digital and Urban Frontier: Girls in a Changing Landscape”, September 19, 2010, Queen Sirikit Convention Center, Bangkok.
PLAN Country Directors, Thailand and Japan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you at today’s symposium as you launch the latest of Plan’s global Because I Am a Girl report. It is delightful to see this cross-section of organisations, government ministries and educational institutions represented here today; and it is truly a privilege to meet so many passionate and inspiring young people who are working every day to improve their communities.
The Report indeed serves as a wake-up call for all of us, regardless of our gender. It reflects not only the grim reality of the challenges that girls and young women face in their daily life but also the continued mistreatments of women and girls in the present day. In many countries, women and girls are still thought of as a burden; treated as a source of cheap labour; or looked at as a resource to be exploited. And still in many places, girls are fed last; girls do not have the opportunity to go to school; girls are forced into child marriages. They are abused, and they receive little or no health care. In fact, they are lucky to survive at all.
All this raises one very important question, and that is “Have we done enough to protect these women and girls?”
Fortunately, in Thailand, the situation here is not nearly as dire. The Government attaches great importance to gender equality and the welfare of women and girls receives due attention. Of the entire population of 64 million, our country’s female population accounts for more than 50 percent; and 8 million of whom are girls of age 18 and under.
Throughout our long history, Thai women have played significant roles. They fought alongside men to save our country. At the same time, they were, and continue to be, caring mothers and wives. With the changing trends and preferences, women in modern times have contributed meaningfully to society by being successful entrepreneurs, professionals, as well as politicians. Their success owes much to their own capabilities, hard-working nature and multitasking skills. But their success is also facilitated by the openness of Thai society, as it is one in which women are allowed to thrive and are accorded the same constitutional rights and freedoms as their male counterparts.
So, I am pleased that most women and girls in Thailand are not losing out but actually cashing in on the vast opportunities that are made available to them. Thai women have gained respect and become successful in business, politics and in many other professional fields, and played an instrumental role in our society.
I have often said that the best investment a country can make is an investment in its people. Investing in women and girls is not only the “right” choice but also a “smart” one. In some countries, it is unfortunate that women remain an untapped pool of capable and intelligent workforce. But here in Thailand, if you look at the number of new recruits in some ministries, or even in your office, I am sure that many of them nowadays are women. Indeed, educated women are important assets for the country and form an indispensable part of the fabric of our flourishing society. That is why my Government has launched a free 15-year basic education policy so that every child -- girls and boys alike -- have equal opportunity in a free education.
Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the progress and despite what we have achieved, there continue to be a number of challenges, not least because technology is transforming our society, our country and our economy very fast. There are some trends which mean that there are now new challenges to the issues concerning girls and women. For instance, the rapid trend towards urbanisation means that the traditional family structure has been affected. And of course if there is insufficient preparation for girls and women in adapting to new environments there could be subsequent problems in various forms -- human trafficking and other exploitations. And of course, one recent phenomenon in Thailand, the issue of teenage pregnancies and also single mothers means that we have a number of challenges that we continue to face and must overcome.
But the technology revolution -- especially the information and communication technology -- has clearly transformed our way of life. It has changed the way we work and it has changed the way we communicate. The internet and various social media are just a few terminologies that are familiar to everyone in this day and age. Currently, there are more than 16 million people in Thailand who use the internet; and youths spend approximately 3 hours per day on the internet. More than 5 million Thais are using Facebook. And these social networking avenues have opened up new channels of communication so that we can stay in touch with one another and keep abreast of the current affairs more easily. In this regard, it is most appropriate that PLAN’s campaign this year is focused on girls, ICT and the cyberspace.
The ICT is indeed a very powerful tool. We need to learn how to use it to give us advantage, and not to put us at a disadvantage. The internet is a great source of information -- like having a library or a person to answer all your questions, at your fingertips. Use it well and it can broaden our knowledge and perspective, helping us advance our society and developmental progress. On the other hand, the internet can also lead young and unprepared users to their own perils. And it is disheartening to see in the news when young, innocent girls fall victim to internet-related crimes and predators.
As a father of a young woman who uses computer on a daily basis, it is difficult not to think about what she might potentially encounter in the cyberspace. There are genuine, well-intentioned users but there are also criminals with the darkest of intentions. All parents share this very concern. The ill-intentioned users could lead your daughters astray and consequently make them subjects of cyber-bulling, blackmail or, even worse, victims of human trafficking or other crimes. In this regard, young internet users need to be “smarter” and “more careful” when they use the internet. Parents and teachers also need to help talk to their children and educate students about the pros and cons of the internet, and how to use it safely. And they should encourage their children to continue engaging in other activities, like reading books, playing sports or simply spending quality time with family, instead of surfing the web all day and increasing the chance of putting themselves at risk. Because, remember, the internet is not the only existing past-time activity.
In Thailand, several laws have been enacted, or in the process of being enacted, to mitigate the various risks in the use of advanced technologies. The Culture, the ICT, the Education and the Public Health Ministries are currently working on ensuring young people appropriate access to technology, so that they can use it safely. But that is not enough. We need more cooperation and partnership from various stakeholders – in the public and private sectors, domestic and international. All of us need to work together to ensure a safer cyberspace and make technology a safe development tool for users, especially girls and young women.
Ladies and Gentlemen,I am glad that besides parents, close friends and families, there is an organisation like PLAN International that will also help look out for the welfare of our global young female population. These girls and young women are any nation’s assets, and should be assisted in everyway possible so that they can flourish and reach their full potential. And indeed, a young girl today will become a woman tomorrow, a mother in the future, and possibly much much more to society at large. We need to give them the best of care and opportunity so that they can thrive and lead their lives with equality, pride and dignity. And this is our purpose today in this symposium.
Let us join our hands and support the development of girls and young women, ensuring safe access and utilisation of modern technology so that women can continue to have the opportunity to achieve their great potential.
I now declare the Symposium on “Because I am A Girl” open and wish it a great success.
Thank you and Sawasdee krub.
- Speech given by H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand at the Thai launch of Because I am a Girl 2010 Symposium
Watch video footage of the event (in Thai only) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNkhypJkPug