Thailand’s deep south women are on the front lines of peace
‘Someone has to step up. If we are silent and do nothing, then we fail the next generation.’
By Caleb Quinley in Pattani, Thailand
Years of conflict and violence have divided communities in Thailand’s deep south. Pateemoh Poh-Itaeda-oh is one of a growing number of women trying to build peace by bringing them together.
In Thailand’s southernmost provinces, militants are fighting for greater autonomy for the region’s Malay Muslim minority within Buddhist-majority Thailand. More than 7,000 people have died since conflict escalated in 2004.
The violence comes from all sides: Insurgents have attacked government targets including civilians; Thai security forces are accused of rights abuses in counterstrikes and anti-insurgency operations. Tensions among Malay Muslim and Thai Buddhist communities have simmered as the conflict wears on.
“For the last 16 years, families have been torn apart after losing loved ones,” said Pateemoh, who heads the Association of Women for Peace, known as We Peace, based in Yala province along Thailand’s southern edge. “They leave behind sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so many broken homes.”
High-level peace talks have so far failed to bring an end to the conflict. Tired of the violence and worried by growing tensions, women like Pateemoh are working to build more organic reconciliation and understanding at the community level.
“None of this violence is normal. None of this should have happened. I began to think, ‘how can I do something to change this situation?”
Some are part of NGOs and civil society groups that support victims of violence. Others also work to counter gender-based violence fuelled by conflict trauma. Many try to prevent retaliatory violence by building bridges between the south’s divided communities.
Pateemoh understands the conflict’s toll as much as anyone: She has lost four family members, including an older brother, who was gunned down in 2003…