Muslim women living in Southern Thailand want peace

Posted on October 18, 2010.

By Soraya Jamjuree

soraya-sIt is a great pleasure to write about our visions of peace for this blog site. I wear two hats—one as director of Friends of the Victimized Families Groups and also I work as a researcher on peace. Both these activities are under the auspices of the Prince of Songla University in Pattani. Peace for women, including Muslim women, living in conflict area means being able to live without harassment. They want to feel safe and want their families to be treated with respect.
The main activity under my first hat is producing a community radio programme with Muslim women living in rural areas in the south. They face the biggest problems of ethnic unrest in the south. They have lost their husbands or other family members who have been killed in the fighting between the insurgency and the Thai military. The women are then left alone to fend for themselves and their families. This is not an easy task for them. Muslim rural women and usually stay at home and have not experienced being the head of their families and now suddenly they have to become the breadwinners. The radio programme takes up these issues to provide them ideas and role models on confidence building and has proved to be a successful way of empowerment. I now have five women who work as volunteers to develop radio programmers and be the reporters. They finish their household duties or work in the fields and then we gather in a group two or three times a week to discuss the radio boradcasts. The studio is in the university and after initial training the women are given microphones and tape recorders to go to the field and ask questions from their counterparts. They return with good stories which they develop into their programmes.
Apart from the daily life issues such as tips for better child rearing, education or health, our citizen reporters take up even the serious and controversial issues. For example, they decided to start a discussion on the issues of compensation for widows or family members who loose their loved ones during cross fighting between the insurgent groups and the army. We found that official financial compensation requests for the Thai Buddhists families are met faster and sometimes are larger than what is extended to the Muslim population. So we brought this issue up in our radio programme. We also discuss such sensitive issues as decentralization which is what is supported by the Muslim community but not as much by the Thai and Chinese community. Also, the community radio is a good place for promoting networking among Muslim women and we also have interaction meetings with Buddhist women. I find that it is possible to build a rapport between the two ethnicities because the women are victims of the ethnic violence regardless of their ethnicity. So they understand each other and can share each other`s sorrow. Community Radio is a good platform to start addressing the difference in opinions.
I was born in Pattani, the largest province among the three provinces that comprise the deep south of Thailand. I went to Thai public school and later to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. My family was supportive when I wanted to go into higher education. I am now married and have one daughter and she is eager to study hard and follow a career. Melayu Muslim women enjoy freedom and have jobs in southern Thailand. Being followers of Islam does not restrict us. We only want to protect our identity and be free to practice our customs as Muslims. If this is understood by other people, then we can live without conflict.

Editor`s note. The ethnic conflict in southern Thailand covers three provinces—Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. The population of almost 1.5 million in the region is comprised of 70 percent Muslim and the rest Thai and Chinese. The Muslims speak Melayu, a language practiced in Malaysia.