Tara Abhasakun is a colleague. We have written together before. I reached out because of the good journalism by her. I wanted to get some expert opinion on women’s rights, journalism, and so on. I proposed a series. She accepted. Abahasakun studied history at The College of Wooster. Much of her coursework was in Middle East history.
After graduating Tara started blogging about the rights of women, LGBT, and minorities in MENA. She is currently a freelance writer. She is of Thai, Iranian, and European descent. She has lived in Bangkok and San Francisco. Here we talk about her background and human rights.
The mixed ethnic and national background provides an interesting admixture not only in terms of heritage but, if culturally influenced then, an intriguing view on the world, too. Journalism needs this around the world, for a rounded perspective. Abhasakun’s interest in feminist issues were the first points of the conversation.
Abhasakun stated, “I think Thailand and Iran influence my feminism in different ways. I have never been to Iran before, however I have grown up knowing about the abuses against women over there. This has made me feel extremely lucky to have grown up in the US which, despite all its flaws, is a free society, although women’s rights are going downhill here too given the Kavanaugh confirmation.”
When she moved focus over to the examination of Thai personal history, she was quite young, so didn’t care about human right issues as much (age 6, so, of course). She returned to Thailand as an adult. Now, she has experienced sexual harassment by taxi drivers several times.
Abhasakun continued, “Thailand does not have as many laws that are as obviously or overtly sexist as Iran does. For example, there is no strict dress code or hijab law. Yet, from what I see of a lot of the mindset here, many people still seem to not value women as much as they value men. For example, when conversing with strangers about my family, when they ask if I have siblings and I tell them yes, they ask, “a brother?” When I say no, they then say “oh, so no boys?” as if every family should have at least one boy.
Apparently, this is common in Thailand. There was a water festival in Thailand. Astoundingly, over half of the women reported gropings and harassments. The Thai police blamed the victims for dressing in a sexy way. Abhasakun, justifiably, was fuming over this a) behaviour of men at the water festival and b) the reaction of the authorities hired to protect the public.
“…[It] motivated me to interview the host of Asia’s Next Top Model about her #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign against this victim-blaming. Thailand is also an international hub for the sex trade,” Abhasakun stated, “It’s very common to see very old foreign men here walking around with young Thai women, and it grosses me out to no end. I realize that there are probably many women who “want to” work in the sex trade, however many poor Thai women are doing this because they have to feed their families. It’s exploitation.”
Sexual exploitation is a form of moral-economic-rights issue not nearly getting enough coverage by activists, journalists, and self-reflection by the buyers or the exploiters – often men.
The conversation shifted into the conditions of women and minorities in the Middle East. She reflected on this, but she added a caveat first. She does not want to pick what group’s rights are most severe because all are severe.
“…I would have to say that the genocide against Yazidis is by far the most dire thing happening in the Middle East right now,” Abhasakun explained, “When I say “most dire” I mean that out of all the situations happening to different human rights violations taking place right now, the threat of violence and death is the most severe. Over 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are still held captive by ISIS, and are still being gang-raped every day.”
These are some of the worst conditions for women and minorities (and minority women) in the world and amount some of the worst human rights violations ongoing in the world as youread this (dear reader).
Abhasakun explained theseling of people to families, literally, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the MENA region. She thinks the UN and politicians – “around the world” – should do better in retrieving enslaved people from ISIS. The violence is severe.
Abhasakun said, “Apart from the Yazidis, there is Asia Bibi’s situation happening right now, as well as the threat to possibly execute 24 Yemeni Baha’is. And of course, so many people are executed in Saudi Arabia and Iran. After the Yazidis, it’s honestly a bit hard for me to say what exactly the most dire situation is.”
Lastly, the shift of the first session went into religion and feminism. She considers all religion needing to be updated with feminism in addition to the removal of the gender norms pervasive within them.
“I believe that it’s possible to keep the aspects of religion that help people to remember a higher power and connection to the universe and their fellow human beings, while throwing away the misogynistic social norms that became a part of religions due to the time periods in which they emerged,” Abhasakun concluded.
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Image Credit: Tara Abhasakun.