Nan Province Women’s Empowerment

     According to the Thai government, children are required to receive compulsory education for 9 years, but only children in large cities receive at least that much education. In reality, there are still a large amount of children who do not receive the required education, especially young women living in the mountainous region of Nan province. 

     The Women's Potential and Education Development Project in Nan is being implemented the by Raks Thai Foundation (Raks Thai). Many ethnic minority children and women in Nan face literacy problems and lack of educational opportunity. Barriers traced back to the socio-cultural traditions, which do not place high value of education on girls, let alone higher education. Other girls who were able to enroll in school had to drop out before graduation to help support the family or take care of their younger siblings. In some tribes, there is a tradition of early age marriage for women, and that is a major obstacle to continuing their education.  These are some of the formidable challenges which the Project is addressing.

     Kannaporn Sonsomrit, Project manager, said that the Project works with ethnic women between the ages of 15-35, among the Hmong, Lua, Khmu, and Malabri tribes in five districts of Nan Province, namely Bo Kluea, Chiang Klang, Chaloem Phra Kiat, Thung Chang, and Pua.  Funding for the Project comes from Lancome Co., and the Project has a four-year time frame, starting in January 2018.

     The Lua and other local tribespeople are facing the problem of reduced arable land to farm, and increasingly they have to travel outside the community to find work, mostly in the low-pay, labor-intensive sector.

     Therefore, vocational skills are required for young women and working-age villagers who are not paid more than the minimum wage. Hmong society is patriarchal, and men are expected to play the dominant role in decision making and financial activities. Women are underrepresented in decision-making, and most minority women tend to bear the burden of household chores and child care. Their education and self-development are not considered important by the Hmong tribe.

     Therefore, the Project began with a focus on women who would be allowed to join the empowerment program and who had completed basic education in Thai schools. The participants are women who wish to acquire advanced skills to open up more job opportunities and economic alternatives.  This would help to meet their desire for enhanced social status within the household, community and wider society through generating income for the family. Even though the knowledge and skills they gain at first may not be linked to a specific occupation, the education and skills-building -- in and of itself -- is intended to empower girls and young women to see that they have more choices in life besides household chores, childbearing, and care for dependents in the household. The occupational training can prepare them for being substantively involved in the local community as well as making decisions for the family. The participating women said they wanted to work closer to home, manage lifestyle activities, and contribute more to community development.

     The courses include education for empowerment at the individual level such as Thai language instruction (but, e.g., written in Hmong text). Other courses cover the basics of information technology and communication skills. There are modules on small business management, basic accounting and marketing, as well as training in social skills, leadership, and networking, among many other topics.

     Kannaporn described one particular outcome of the Project that was produced by the female students in a workshop entitled “Write a Story for Us.” This was a three-day event which asked participants to write a description of their own tribal group. They were given time and resources to research their topic.  The Lua participants liked this exercise very much, and they produced a large number of different stories which they compiled into a "Big Book" which was almost an encyclopedia about the Lua people. The participants also conveyed information by graphic posters which can be used by teachers in the hilltribe schools.

     Throughout the first three years of the Nan Women's Potential and Education Development Project, a total of 1,523 young women have participated in the Project activities, and it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 indirect beneficiaries so far.

      Empowering women may be a task with less tangible results than, say, construction of buildings or physical structures.  However, if women are empowered by increased knowledge, everyone’s well-being will surely improve.

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