The Songkran Festival celebrates the Thai New Year with water fights in the street. Women revelers have complained about sexual harassment at past festivals; before this year’s festivities, a Thai official told women to dress conservatively to avoid it. They’ve responded to the suggestion with their own hashtag about sexual harassment that echoes the #MeToo movement.
The Bangkok Post reports that Sutthipong Chulcharoen, department director-general of the Department of Local Administration, announced that there would be alcohol-free zones for the celebrants, and suggested tourists dress “conservatively” during the event, especially women, so that “they do not fall victim to sex crimes.” This statement is offensive, of course, because it puts the onus on women for preventing their own harassment, rather than targeting the men who are doing the harassing.
In response, Thai-American model Cindy Bishop spoke out about Chulcharoen’s comments with a video that went viral, hashtagging it #DontTellMeHowToDress. According to Bloomberg, the hashtag has become far more popular than #MeToo in Thailand, and Bishop said that she thinks it’s because it’s a more general concept:
“Maybe the reason this is taking off faster is because they’re not coming out and accusing anyone,” Bishop said. “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.”
Non-profit organization Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, who approached Chulcharoen about the issue of sexual harassment at Songkran, they surveyed 1,650 women and girls, and found 59 percent of them had experienced harassment at the festival.