2018 marks the 20th Anniversary since the United Nations unanimously adopted the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, commonly known as the “UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders”. Yet still today Human rights defenders (HRDs), and women HRDs in particular face unique challenges when participating in the public space and stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes, violence and harassment.
According to information from Protection International, in the period 2014-2017, at least 170 community and rural-based Women Human Rights Defenders have been the target of judicial harassment due to their outspoken roles in the defence of the environmental, land rights and equal access to natural resources. WHRDs in Thailand are subject to systematic violence and discrimination due to their identities and unyielding struggles for rights, equality and justice. It is the informal networks of women human rights defenders themselves that provide protection. These individuals and informal networks have become vital in both raising awareness and drawing attention to the issue, but also for the women themselves in recognition of their work and for building solidarity with local and global movements.
In this collaboration between The Canadian Embassy in Bangkok and Protection International under the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) they launched the project called "Her Life, Her Diary: Side by Side WHRDs 2018 - Diary of Hope and Dreams". I was commissioned to photograph the 20 featured WHRDs in Thailand in time for a public event on International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.
The underlying need is to raise awareness of the many struggles and challenges Women Human Rights Defenders face in their daily work to promote social justice and universally recognized human rights, and their outstanding tenacity and courage.
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Phattraporn Kaengjumpa, a member of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Environmental Group stands in a rice paddy in the village of Na Nong Bong in Loei Province. The mountains behind her are the location of a gold mine that the villagers allege continues to contaminate their water supply and affect their crops.
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Angkhana Neelapaijit, Commissioner of Thailand’s Human Rights Commission, stands in her office in the sprawling Government complex at Chaeng Wattana in Bangkok. Before holding this position she fought her own personal battle to bring justice to her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, who was abducted in Bangkok and never seen again.
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Nalutporn Krairiksh, a Thai journalist in the newsroom of Pratchatai News Agency. She has been physically disabled since she was born having to use a wheelchair and regularly reports on news the rights and issues of disabled members of Thai society.
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Rokeeyoh Sana-Ae stands on the beach located next to her community in the Tae Pa District of Songklah Province. Where she stands is the proposed site for a coal-powered power plant which the community vigorously opposes saying it will destroy the natural habitat of the area and their community.
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Yuphin Saja, a member of the Lahu minority group in the safe house she has been forced to move to with her husband and small children for their own protection after a member of the group was allegedly shot dead at a checkpoint.
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Chutima Chuenhuajai, a member of the Rak Ban Heang environmental group, on the main street of the village of Ban Heng in Lampang Province where the threat of an open-pit coal mine looms.
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Chalita Bundhuwong, in one of her lecture rooms at Kasetsart University, where she is a professor of Social Science. She has been part of an effort to organize public discussions, lectures and lead campaigns to assist students in understanding the concept of human rights. She is also the Coordinator of the Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC).
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Nutchanart Thanthong stands in the remains of a destroyed house in the small slum community fighting forced evictions. For over 20 years she has assisted communities in and around Bangkok who are facing eviction.
Samut Prakan, Thailand
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Preeyanan Lorsermvattana sits in the bedroom of a mother and son whom she assisted in receiving compensation after a hospital doctor injected the pregnant mother with a drug that led to the child being born severely mentally and physically disabled. Now 9 years old she continues to help the family. After she suffered personally during the birth of her son which left him having to have a prosthetic hip and received no compensation she made it her mission to help others.
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Naw K'nyaw Paw of the Karen Women's Organization in the fenced compound of their Thai headquarters in Mae Hong Son Province. The organisation has 60,000 members and works to fight for the rights of Karen women and children in Myanmar and Thailand.
Mae Hong Son, Thailand
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Lawyer Sor Rattanamanee Polkla in the doorway of the Community Resource Centre Foundation where she works. Her foundation assists communities around the country who face legal challenges often related to the environmental threats from companies.
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Supaporn Malailoy of the En-Law Foundation in the stairway of her office in the Ramkamhaeng area of Bangkok. She advises communities in Thailand how to use and participate in the legal system so they can defend their own rights, protect nearby natural resources and the environment of their community.
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Sriprai Nonsee, a prominent labour activist, sits in a small sewing factory in the Rangsit area of Northern Bangkok. She personally started working in a garment factory at the age of 10 years old and so horrified by the way they were treated by the age of 21 she had become the President of her first Labour Union. She continues to fight for the rights of factory workers who are treated unfairly by their employers.
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Thararat Panya stands in the grounds of Thammasat University where she is in her fourth year of a law degree. She was the victim of sexual assault by a fellow male student and bravely reported to the University and now speaks openly about her experience.
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Oranuch Pholpinyo sits at a house in the village of Bo Kaew in Chaiyaphum Province. She is the Co-ordinator of the E-san Land Reform Network which assists people affected by issues concerning land and forest use, as well as industrial factories.
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Ida Aroonwong Ida Aroonwong at home is a bail bonds person. She is the trustee of a fund set up after the 2014 coup to help bail out political prisoners.
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Ulairat Chooduang, a member of the Thai Volunteer Service sits in a small alleyway in Songkhla city. She is in the process of opening the first office of the Thai Volunteer Service located in Southern Thailand.
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Anticha Sangchai, an openly bi-sexual professor at the Prince of Songklah University Pattani campus, stands in goal on the football pitch where her all-girls club Buku FC practice weekly. She also runs a small book-shop that has books related to gender issues, both of which are not easy in a conservative Muslim area of Southern Thailand that is still in conflict.
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Mai Chantha at work in the Can Do Bar, a working model of a safe, fair bar for sex workers, that doubles as an Drop In Centre for the Empower Foundation. For 8 years she has fought for the rights of sex workers as part of the Empower Foundation and in early 2017 she testified on the treatment of sex workers to a Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Asane Rodphol stands on the track that runs through her community of Nam Daeng in Surat Thani Province. Behind her stands other members of the community which is supported by the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand as it faces legal threats and eviction.