Meeting With The Founder of Women For Peace
Last week, GENaustin was honored with a visit from Ms Poh-itaeda-oh, a dignitary and the founder and director of Women for Peace/We Peace in Thailand. Women for Peace/We Peace was established in 2004 in response to the escalation of the conflict in southern Thailand and the increased negative impact on citizens, particularly youth and women. The immediate objective of We Peace was to support women and youth in promoting conflict transformation through non-violent advocacy for peace. Initial activities included the provision of financial and psychological support to victims of the conflict. Through this activity, We Peace began building a strong and broad network throughout the Deep South provinces of Thailand.
Ms. Poh-Itaeda-Oh came to the US through the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program in order to:
Explore innovative and creative ways in which women leaders can lead through community services particularly in conflict areas;
Explore the principles of and prospects for women’s roles in promoting good governance and human rights; and
Examine how U.S. women in civil society organizations work to advocate for improving conditions in their communities.
GENaustin is honored to have been one of the organizations selected to meet with her, and learn more about the challenges facing women in Thailand.
For background on the situation: Southern Thailand is being rocked by conflict between Thai Buddhists and insurgents. According to Human Rights Watch:
“The Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani insurgents are guided by a combination of extremist ethnic Malay nationalism and Islamist ideologies. They assert that Thailand’s southern border provinces should be liberated from ethnic Thai Buddhists to create what they call Patani Darulsalam (Islamic Land of Patani). The insurgents use a campaign of violence and terror to oppose what they contend is an ethnic Thai Buddhist occupation. In this context, they do not tolerate the presence of the non-ethnic Malay Muslim population, and aim to drive out all Thai Buddhists, keep Malay Muslims under control, and discredit the Thai authorities.”
Separatist insurgents in the three southern most provinces of Thailand are targeting and deliberately murdering civilians, with more than 5,000 killed since January 2004. Because they are killing people with no purpose, anyone could be shot at any moment, and in fact Ms. Poh-itaeda-oh’s 5 siblings have been murdered. In addition, because the culture of Southern Thailand is very violent towards women, they in particular are in danger. Ms. Poh-itaeda-oh is fighting for both causes, and her life is in danger when she is in Thailand because of what she represents.
Speaking with the dignitary, we formed a circle with chairs (no tables) and Ms. Poh-itaeda-oh spoke to a translator who shared her amazing story with us. The experience left us all feeling very grateful for the chance to learn about the challenges facing girls and women in Thailand and re-inspired to continue the movement to improve our culture for girls.