Women in Thailand are rejecting requests to be careful about what they wear at the Songkran festival, after a government official made the recommendation last month.
The annual festival celebrates Thailand’s traditional new year, and is marked by throwing street parties and splashing or pouring water as a symbol of washing away adversity and bringing in the upcoming year.
According to the BBC, Thailand's director-general of the department of local administration, Sutthipong Chulcharoen, issued the advice in an attempt to curb potential instances of sexual assault – a common, but sadly misinformed, approach by the Thai government.
Two years ago, prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha offered almost identical advice with regards to the prospect of sex crimes at the festival. He said: “During Songkran, I ask that women wear proper clothes, Thai style, so they would look good and civilized.”
Responding to the guidance, which fails to place responsibility on the actual perpetrators of sexual assault, Thai-American model, Cindy Sirinya Bishop – who herself was sexually assaulted at Songkran festival over two decades ago – posted a series of videos reminding people that “women have the right to dress however we choose”.
Songkran is traditionally such a beautiful festival. [But] for a lot of Thai women, it has become dangerous because they know they are going to be taken advantage of
Using the hashtags #DontTellMeHowToDress and #TellMenToBehave, Bishop’s efforts soon spread among Thai Women, with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook users responding with their own experiences of assault and harassment in parallel with the #MeToo movement.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Bishop said, "Maybe the reason this is taking off faster is because they’re not coming out and accusing anyone. Our society is quite conservative, and for someone to come out and point a finger at someone who’s assaulted her is huge, I don’t know if we’re ready for it yet."
In 2016, the Thailand-based Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation surveyed 1,650 women about sexual assault at the Songkran festival, and found that 59 per cent of respondents aged 10 to 40 years old said they had been victims of sexual assault, the Bangkok Post reported.
The foundation also hosted a seminar, at which Bishop served as a panelist, in an effort to debunk the idea that what a woman wears bears any correlation to being vulnerable to sexual assault.
Speaking to the BBC, Bishop said: “Songkran is traditionally such a beautiful festival. [But] for a lot of Thai women, it has become dangerous because they know they are going to be taken advantage of.
"Across the globe, you have the feminist movement, the #MeToo movement, conversation on this topic is growing and in the same way, I hope in Thailand this movement continues beyond Songkran."