Iron Women: A Model For Success In Thailand, Jane Okerman
Women exclusively comprise the front line of a recent protest in Na Nong Bong Village, a community that like Nonsomboon is fighting against Tongkun Limited (TKL) mining company in order to remove a detrimental mine that is already occupying their land.
While on unit 4, studying the effect of mines on various communities in the Leoi province of Thailand, we had the opportunity to stay in and exchange with people in Nonsomboon village. Nonsomboon villagers are fighting against the Thai government and Canadian mining company in hopes to defer the placement of an underground Potash mine on their land. This will be the first underground mine to be built in Thailand, which poses many questions for the future of the country’s development, especially on an international level.
The villagers facing this issue believe that by building a mine, the government is disregarding villagers’ way of life and destroying the livelihood of many innocent people. What was so striking about the exchange we had is what was conveyed to our student group about the resilience and success this village has had in warding off the mining plans, compared to a similar community in Leoi province, U-Moong village. The U-Moong villagers have been facing the very same issue but are just hanging on by a thread with the threat of 3 new open-pit mines on their land. However, in Nonsomboon, the government and mining company have been trying to implement their plans for the past ten years and have made very little leeway and it appears that they may never get their way.
The village, 70% united, has officially established the group Udon Thani Conservation Group, comprised of passionate members who will do anything to keep their land unaffected from the treacherous mine; a truly resilient group of people that inspired my fellow classmates and me to hear and gain an understanding for their story and insight into their process.
This awe has led me even further in investigation into the real core of these fighters and here’s what I found: possibly one of the strongest members of Udon Thani Conservation Group is Mae1 Manee, someone we had an opportunity to exchange with and the leader of the Iron Women group of Nonsomboon village. The Iron Women are 40 tenacious women who have laid a solid groundwork for progress among the communities in northeast Thailand who are fighting for their rights. Although this group has been acknowledged as one of strongest groups of women in the protest world they did not always start out that strong.
Their tactics have evolved to be something of a unique way to accomplish things. Mae Manee and the Iron Women have deployed homemade bombs made out of feces and urine in plastic bags at the police or using dirty menstrual stained underwear to defer the authorities. These women have taken up the front lines in protests and feel as though their gender gives them an advantage.
The police are less likely to fight women. “It works because they [police] still have respect for women,” Mae Manee recounted as she discussed her and her fellow females’ role at the head of the action.
Another strong characteristic of this group is their knowledge base. It doesn’t matter what type of formal education these ladies have, as most have hardly any past primary school, because they have self-educated themselves wise beyond their years. Mae Manee reads everything she can get her hands on including the extensive text of the Thai law. Knowing the law inside and out gives these women a strong advantage. They are more confident in their fighting and protesting because they know they are within in the law. They are the most innovative and successful group of fighters we have met among many during our studies abroad so far.
Learning about these inspiring women has also helped me to really understand the role of women in Thailand. In the United States, at home, gender roles and equality is often times up for much debate and argument, something that I have recently become more interested in. So to be able to extend my studies regarding this issue to a more international level has immensely increased me knowledge and provided me with new context to bring home.