#DontTellMeHowToDress: Thai women hit out

A woman armed with a water pistol at the annual Songkran festival yesterday. Women responded angrily to an official's suggestion that they cover up to avoid being assaulted at the festival.
A woman armed with a water pistol at the annual Songkran festival yesterday. Women responded angrily to an official's suggestion that they cover up to avoid being assaulted at the festival.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • Women in Thailand have taken to social media to share stories of sexual harassment, angered at an official's suggestion that they cover up to avoid being assaulted at a popular water festival.

Often dubbed the "world's biggest water fight", the annual Songkran celebration - which marks Thai New Year - see citizens and tourists alike take part in boisterous street water-fights armed with water pistols and buckets.

The water festival is also celebrated in in Laos and Cambodia as well as in China's Yunnan province by the local Dai ethnic nationality.

In Myanmar, it is known as the Thingyan festival and lasts for four days from April 13 to 16, with the New Year arriving a day later.

In Thailand, the three-day festival started yesterday.

Using the hashtag #DontTellMe HowToDress, women have told how they were groped and harassed at Songkran in previous years. "This is the first time women are saying enough is enough," said Thai-American model and TV host Cindy Bishop, who started the #DontTellMeHowToDress drive.

"We are protesting against sexual assault, and women are standing up to say we should dress how we feel," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the Thai seaside town of Pattaya yesterday.

Nearly 60 per cent of women said they had been groped during Songkran and only a small number reported these incidents to the police, according to a survey of 1,650 women by the Thailand-based Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation this month.

"Modest clothing doesn't protect women from sexual assault," a Thai woman posted on Twitter with the hashtag, which has gone viral.

"These things need to be stopped," another Twitter user wrote, saying a reveller once fired at her breasts with a water gun.

Ms Bishop said she was assaulted by a group of men at Songkran celebrations when she was a teenage girl over two decades ago.

"They basically put their hands all over me," said the 39-year-old, who has hosted the reality TV show Asia's Next Top Model.

"It has become such a problem because it's hard to point fingers. It's hard in that situation when everyone is having a good time," she said, urging the authorities to step up enforcement and issue warnings to revellers against sexual harassment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2018, with the headline '#DontTellMeHowToDress: Thai women hit out'. Print Edition | Subscribe