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Family and Work: Burden for Women

By Doeuk Vannarith
AFP, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


WOMEN in Southeast Asia, as in the rest of the world, confront the juggling act of traditional female roles and their careers.

“Women right now are more challenged than men but there is less recognition and support from families and the working environment,” Dr. Kyoko Kusakabi, a Japanese expert on gender issues at the Asian Institute of Technology, told a group of reporters.

Women are expected to be responsible for their daily household obligations, which often can’t be postponed, she said. “It is difficult to control the work,” Dr. Kusakabi said. “If you don’t do your housework for two days, sometimes you’ve got problems in the house.”

For successful career development, women need challenges, recognition of their accomplishments, and support from their families and employers, Dr. Kusakabi said. Unfortunately, women often must cope with being responsible for too many roles and they can face work and family conflicts. “The roles are mutually incompatible,” Dr. Kusakabi said.

Women’s lives can be simplified as they attain higher educations, earn more money, and get more support from their families, she said.

Supinya Klangnarong, who is a media rights advocate and secretary general of the media watchdog group, the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, has faced the critical situation of being sued for libel by former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In the years she battled the public lawsuit, her life changed, she told the reporters from the Mekong region, who are part of a training course sponsored by the Indochina Memorial Media Foundation.

“It negatively happened to you. It is deeply in your spirit, negatively in your body, your health, your family, and your relations with everything …. It was very frustrating during those two years,” she said.

During the legal battle, Supinya said she was focused on it instead of on her own personal life. She recalled that when she met people, they would say, “’Hi Supinya, what about the lawsuit?’ They never said, ‘You have a new hair cut’ or ‘How is your life today?’”

In July 2003, the Thai Post, a Thai-language daily newspaper, published her comments that the Shin Corp., then majority owned by Thaksin’s family, had benefited because of favorable policies by his government. Shin Corp. filed a criminal libel lawsuit over the article, naming Supinya and the paper as co-defendants. A civil suit filed by Shin sought 400 million baht in compensation.

“I did not go out hanging out with friends at the nighttime. I preferred staying home to going out and singing karaoke, but before I drank or did some things. I was trying to be more careful in going somewhere with people because it was really a threat,” she said.

After the Thaksin family sold its shares in Shin Corp. to Singapore’s Temasek Holding, the company offered to drop the lawsuit on the condition that Supinya apologize for her comments. Supinya refused.

In March 2006 the criminal court threw out the criminal lawsuit, saying the article in the Thai Post was presented in good faith and in the public’s best interest.

Even though the problem was already finished, for this lady, it is like a black image on her white brand. “Now it is gone but it does not mean that my life is back to normal because your life today is destroyed by the last three years and it is very intensive because there was so much attention and so much frustration,” she said.

Another woman facing work and home responsibilities is a Burmese doctor at the Raks Thai Foundation health clinic near Samutsakorn outside Bangkok. She asked that her name not be used. She said she enjoys the support of her family.

 “So every day, I come here and I have to go back. So at night I have to go back to meet my children and at the weekend I stay with my children,” she said.

The experience is as gender expert Dr. Kusakabi said, “We need two kinds of support: family support and working support.”


Copyright 2009 IMMF.