MAI, Thailand, Mar 14 (IPS Asia-Pacific) - Tun Yo may not have known
much about the ways of the world when he first came to work in one of
the orange groves here seven years ago. After all, he was just a young
boy of 14 at the time and one of the thousands of Burmese migrants who
pour into Thailand every year.
Indeed, even when he finally got
married, chances are he knew little or nothing about family planning or
reproductive health. In fact, Tun Yo probably could have cared less.
however, is no longer the case. As one of the participants in a project
aimed at Burmese male migrants here in Chiang Mai, Tun Yo recently
attended a reproductive-health training workshop that has inspired him
to discuss birth control methods with his wife. In addition, he says, he
has become conscious of sexual hygiene and has learned about how to
avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV and
"I think compared to women, men are not interested much in
their health," comments Dr. Samphan Kahinthapong, Northern Region
director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT), which
runs the project that received support from the International Planned
Parenthood Federation (IPPF). "In fact, if men are responsible for their
reproductive health, (that) will help both their health and their
It was this thinking that had PPAT creating and then
implementing the project that began in June last year and ends in March
2011this month. Aside from offering training workshops that employ some
of the migrants themselves as traineors, the project includes mobile
clinics that provide contraceptives and treatment, as well as conduct
tests for STDs.
In coming up with the project, PPAT had noted
that most of the estimated two million Burmese migrants currently in
Thailand have limited or no access to health services and education.
Perhaps as a consequence, it said, the Burmese migrant community
suffered from "early or unwanted pregnancies, early marriage, sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs including HIV/AIDS), unsafe abortions, and
violence against women".
The project aimed at providing
information on sexual and reproductive health to 4,000 people and
related services to 1,000 people. Male Burmese migrant workers at orange
plantations, construction sites and elsewhere here in northern Thailand
were the target beneficiaries.
It may have helped that most of
these workers are Thai Yai, a Burmese ethnic minority in which relations
between genders are more equal compared to those in other ethic
groupstribes. Yet even then, some men admit to attitudinal changes after
taking part in the project.
For instance, they say that they now
don't think of household chores as being solely the burden of women,
especially since both men and women these days work outside of the home.
37-year-old female worker also says, "It seemed to be embarrassing to
talk about sex with my husband, but with the knowledge he now has, I
tell him when I don't want to have sex because I have my period or when
I'm so tired."
"He doesn't refuse when I ask him to buy my
(sanitary pads)," she adds. "If we were in our home community in Mong
Pan (in Shan state, Burma), I don't think he would buy them. The men
there feel so embarrassed even to wash look at women's clothes."
male and female Burmese workers say that after undergoing training as
part of the project, men seemed to respect and understand the women
more. Participants showed more concern about having "quality" family
life, they say.
Project officer Benjawan Srivichai also says
increased understanding between the sexes is among the changes they have
seen so far among the participants. "Males used to monopolise
decision-making, but now they listen to each other more," she says. "We
have heard more about men and women being equal. In addition, male and
women workers have more access to reproductive-health services, condoms,
and contraceptive pills."
PPAT is now thinking of extending the
project's life span to ensure that such changes last. Dr. Samphan says
as well that doing so would enable PPAT to expand the target
beneficiaries to include boys. Moreover, he says, a long-term project
would more suitable in addressing the seeming trend of early
Gender expert Niwat Suwanpattana meanwhile says that
the PPAT project is a good initiative. But he thinks its focus is too
limited to hygiene and contraception. Niwat, who is an advisor to the
Thai Network Coalition on AIDS, says that he would like to see it move
on to other directions, such as toward encouraging women to see sex
beyond being a mere "duty" to their partners..
This is not the
first time, though, that PPAT has had a project aimed at Burmese
migrants in Chiang Mai. In recent years, it has provided
reproductive-health services, but these were mainly for women migrants
and consisted of gynaecological exams and pap smears, among others. P
Yet while PPAT tends to have projects in the same areas for years, it
has no problems with changing its programmes in accordance to the
Migrant workers like Tun Yo couldn't be
happier with its most recent initiative. Says Tun Yo: "I have never used
condoms before, and now I know how to use it and that it is used not
only for birth control but also for preventing HIV and other STDs."
wife and I) are also discussing more about when we should have a baby,"
he says. According to Tun Yo, the project has made them realise there
were many family birth control planning options they could choose from.
Orgnization: the Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT)