Thailand’s New Gender Equality Act

On September 9, 2015, ‘unfair’ gender-based discrimination became illegal in Thailand under the Gender Equality Act of 2015. Here are some FAQs about Thailand’s new law to help us understand what it means, especially for LGBTs.

What exactly does the law cover? Is it limited only to gender-based discrimination in employment or education?

It covers a wide range of discriminatory acts in almost all areas of life, not just education or employment.

However, discriminatory practices related to national security, the exercise of religious principles, or affirmative actions (such as gender quota or special assistance to disadvantaged groups) are not considered ‘unfair’ and are thus exempted under the law. In other words, the military and religious bodies can continue discriminatory practices.

Does it only apply to discrimination against women?

No. The law penalizes unfair gender-based discrimination against persons who are “male, female, or have expressions that differ from their birth sex.”

It seems that transgender people are protected. Does it also protect gays, lesbians, or bisexuals?

It can be argued that the spirit of the law extends protection to gays, lesbians, or bisexuals. But the vague language of the law leaves room for interpretation by those implementing the law.

How is the law going to be implemented? Who will enforce?

The law establishes two commissions: a Gender Equality Promotion Commission, and a Gender-Based Discrimination Adjudication Commission.

The Gender Equality Promotion Commission will oversee the implementation in general, and its mandate includes issuing regulations, proposing new policies, or conducting related research. The Commission consists of the Prime Minister, 12 representatives from various ministries, and 9 experts on women’s issues and gender/sexual diversity, probably from civil society organizations.

The Adjudication Commission is tasked to investigate and decide individual cases of alleged discrimination. The Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security is charged with the administrative work of both commissions, conducting relevant research, receiving complaints of alleged discrimination, and coordinating any related work.

Complaints may be filed at provincial offices of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

What happens if you break the law?

Any person or organization (private or public) found guilty by the Adjudication Commission of committing gender-based discrimination shall be ordered to cease from continuing the said act. Refusal to obey this order is punishable with imprisonment of no more than six months and/or a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht. Refusal to cooperate with the Adjudication Commission or obstructing its work (for example, not responding to their inquiries) also carries a penalty – up to three months in jail or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both.

What are the other redress mechanisms provided by the law?

Aside from the ruling from the Adjudication Commission, a victim of discrimination might receive compensation (for example, for earnings lost due to discrimination, or for medical expenses resulting from discrimination), even prior to a final ruling on the case. The law creates a special fund for compensation. However, a complaint can’t be filed if a court is already considering the case.

What happens to existing laws and regulations that unfairly discriminate based on gender?

Such laws and regulations become illegal under this Act. If the Adjudication Commission deems a law unconstitutional, they can refer the case to the National Ombudsman Office, who will then refer it to the Constitutional Court.

Does this cover unequal marriage laws, or laws not allowing transgender people to change their gender in official documents?

These laws can be revoked under a broad interpretation of the Gender Equality Act. However, this depends on how the new commissions tackle these issues, and what the constitutional court will do if such cases are referred to it. Meanwhile, Thailand does not have a regular constitution at the moment, so it also depends on what the new constitution will say.  

Help, ThailandSi Min Chong