The Curious Case of Women in the Thai Workforce

In celebration of the UN’s World Day for Health and Safety at Work, the Center for Girls Foundation offers a perspective on women’s place in Thai workplaces and the center’s leanings from our 20 years of work in gender equality.

Women in Thailand have historically held a large percentage of the working force at 45 % in 2021 (World Bank, 2021). This goes against the traditionally held beliefs in Thailand that a woman should aspire to stay home and take on the bulk of the family care work. The largest part of Thai children, therefore, are familiar with having a mother who works while still taking the lead in household responsibilities.  At the same time, female leadership is an extreme rarity with 15 % of the parliament members being female (World Bank, 2023) and Thailand holding the 79th place in the Gender Inequality Index (Thai Enquirer, 2022). It seems like a contradiction that female Thai workers should take up a large part of the workforce but be underrepresented in leadership but leading households. So why are none of us really that surprised?

Lack of Access to Employment

Part of the reason that we are not incredibly shocked that women do not have the same employment opportunities as their male counterparts is that is the same pattern that we see repeated all over the world. Women have, in the past, been expected to stay at home to take care of their family’s needs without access to educational or occupational opportunities. But for decades now this picture has been shifting towards women taking an equal role to men at home, at school, and at work. The rate and trajectory of change, however, differ from country to country, which brings us back to Thailand.

Here, women and men are almost equal in their employment rates with the rate of unemployment being very low. So, women and men are equal in the Thai workforce, right? No. Not at all. These numbers suggest the International Labor Organization (ILO), is more an expression of lack of socio-economic opportunities for women. Simply put neither men nor women can afford to be unemployed in Thailand.

The work that women and men occupy is significantly different. Because women in Thailand do not have the same access to education women are overrepresented in lower-paid care work, within industry and tourism. In office jobs, where women are severely underrepresented, their male counterparts are paid more and promoted ahead of them due to a belief that a man needs to earn for his family and gain status in society. As such, women in Thailand work physically demanding jobs without getting corresponding pay and if they do acquire well-paying office jobs, they should not expect to get their efforts rewarded with salary increases or promotions.

Further pressure on women happened during the 20th century after the Thai government in 1997 lowered the minimum wage from 300 baht to 100 baht in an effort to seek foreign direct investments. This meant that even the lowest-paid work taken by women was now worth even less, which meant migrant workers flooded into the country and took up work at minimum wage. This put Thai women in an even harder position to find well-paying work, and also exposed female migrant workers to trafficking, abuse, and exploitation (R. Kosaikanont, 2019).

Work on and off the Clock

Most women by far in Thailand will be working all day and are more likely to work in physically demanding jobs. This work that they are paid for. They are not paid much and not as much as their male counterparts. After that work is done, it is now time for the unpaid work that takes place in their households. Although the UNDP report that 80 % of Thai women stated that they received more help from their partners during the COVID-19 pandemic, women still take up the lion’s share of the care for children and the elderly with some having farming responsibilities, too.

Like the trend of women’s paid work in Thailand, they involve more physical labor than the work of men and do not help them financially. Women in Thailand, therefore, are expected to work hard for less money on and off the clock.

Changes to gender equality are happening globally and with that all over Thailand. The Center for Girls Foundation in Chiang Khong has worked with these issues for close to 20 years and the region’s proximity to Laos means that the center works with many migrant men and women facing the challenges presented above. The center advocates against and intervenes in cases of trafficking, abuse, and exploitation of migrant workers.

The center’s efforts have revolved around strengthening the network between women through community groups where women can find support and opportunities in their local context. This unity also means that these women can take issues and reports to the authorities and collaborate with policymakers on these issues. Through this work, it has also been possible to encourage village and community leaders to seek to take up leadership positions and seek representation in local governments and councils.

Vocational training is another tool used by the Center for Girls Foundation to strengthen the financial opportunities for women and their families.

Collaboration with all levels of society has proven especially important and effective in Chiang Khong, where more men are opening their eyes to the unnecessary troubles faced by the entire community because of gender inequality. Men are a relatively new focus of the center’s work but has proven effective when men realize that female liberation means liberation for all genders as it provides more opportunities for all peoples in the region – not only women.

Furthermore, the Center for Girls Foundation is looking forward to introducing local youth councils in the communities so both male and female youth can let their voice be heard and train them in advocacy and leadership. In this way, the Chiang Khong Center for Girls Foundation is building the pathway for girls to move toward female representation and leadership.

The Center for Girls Foundation thanks our sponsors for their continued support in our work towards gender equality. If you have not already, please consider donating today.


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