Florence de Vesvrotte (FdV), MBBI Writer, interviewed Amporn Marddent (AM), Lecturer at Walailak University, Thailand on 22 May 2016.
FdV: What is your background?
AM: I am a Muslim woman from the south of Thailand. I grew up in a traditional indigenous Phuketian family, and graduated with a degree in comparative religion from Bangkok, Mahidol University, in 2001. I am currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at Frankfurt University and my thesis is on Gender Piety of Muslim Women in Thailand.
FdV: What is your area of expertise?
AM: I have been working for the past ten years as a full time lecturer at Walailak University, the Government university on the East coast of Southern Thailand. I teach in a Cultural Studies programme. Besides this, I have involved myself with civil society and NGOs to promote gender equality and human rights. At the moment we are running training courses on mediation and my role in this field is largely to share knowledge about its benefits, while also working directly with women, and trying to bridge gaps of communication between government officials and communities.
FdV: What has been your involvement with MBBI and the International Training Institute (ITI)?
AM: I discovered the MBBI network at the MBBI conference in Romania in 2015, where I participated as an attendee of the ITI. In October of that same year, MBBI, in cooperation with my university organized a training on Interfaith Dialogue and Conflict Resolution on the campus. It was a two and a half day workshop, led by Prabha Sankaranarayan, MBBI’s President and CEO, Dave Joseph, Senior Vice-President for Program at the Public Conversations Project and Shadia Marhaban, MBBI’s Regional Consultant for Southeast Asia. We focused on building community dialogue and held discussions on the following topics: “Good Relations and Civic Leadership”, “Conflict Management/ Dialogue”, “Me and my role in the community”, “The Neurobiology of Conflict and Transformation: Me and My Brain”, and “Working with Contentious Cultural Issues: What We Can Do Better”.
FdV: How would you define mediation?
AM: Mediation is a tool to promote justice and human rights through encouraging collaboration between stakeholders. Trained mediators can conduct community dialogues as well as educate marginalized and vulnerable people about their rights.
FdV: Have you been involved in a proper mediation? Could you tell us what worked and what did not?
AM: Yes. Through my work on the elimination of gender based violence (GBV), I have noticed the marginalisation of women in the ongoing unrest in our Southern provinces. Women are dis-empowered through their communities, legal systems and also religious bodies. The idea of my work was to use mediation in cases of GBV and domestic violence (DV) to ensure the protection of the rights of the abused persons whether they were Muslim or not. Mediation in these cases can be very complex to use as elements of religion and culture carry significant weight in areas such as marriage and divorce. Sometimes, what we call ‘dialogue table’, which is a common form of mediation, is not enough to find a compromise.
FdV: What is your biggest frustration as a mediator?
AM: The competition between actors involved in GBV cases is most frustrating. Donor-dependence does not create a healthy environment among women’s groups. It diverts us from what we really need to help women: a strategy to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security; better knowledge-sharing among women, and methods to find common ground to fight from together.
FdV: What projects are you working on at the moment?
AM: I support work on building capacity for community mediators. I recently worked on a highly publicized campaign to protect markets and hospitals from unsafe zones and allow for safer infrastructure access to women. Recent killings and bombs in public spaces have brought insecurity and mistrust among people, especially in-between Muslims and Buddhists. Leading women activists from various communities and faiths therefore called for a basic right of safety and set a day of dialogue in cities in Pattani province. They marched together and called local governments to do more and get involved with these safe zones, ensuring the participation of women in peace processes and giving particular attention to GBV as a means to bring peace. My position as a lecturer was key to expanding and sharing best practices in how to solve conflicts, and particularly, how to implement various mechanisms to protect women. I work to bridge gaps and strengthen capacity.
FdV: What is your ambition?
AM: To improve the rights of women in conflict resolution.
FdV: A recommendation?
AM: Mediation should pay particular attention to ensuring those most marginalised, overlooked, and voiceless be represented during such processes. Mediation should also guarantee its participants ownership of the process. In this way, I believe equal rights and social solidarity could be established through mediation; then mediation becomes not only a tool to solve conflict but also an instrument to bring long term stability through the promotion of rights. Basically through the recognition and respect of human rights, conflict is resolved. We need to build trust and develop the communication skills needed for communities to function better. ITI could share and provide resources and tools, including successful strategies taken in other places that could be applied in different other contexts (note to our readers: this is actually going to happen, MBBI is developing a section that will focus on case studies to share best practices among practitioners about what works and what does not when it comes to mediation).
FdV: Are you going to the ITI mediation conference in July?
AM: Yes. Despite the fact that women are fully aware of power dynamics, they remain underrepresented in peace talks. I hope to learn in particular about how best to integrate a gender approach into local knowledge and address the challenges that women face in participating in peace talks and mediation.
Research projects done:
- 2014-2015 Assessment Project: Development of Sustainable Community Extension Services for Women and Children Most-affected by the Unrest and Violence in the Deep South Thailand
- 2013 Identity Dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim Women in Southern Thailand, Supported by SEASREP Foundation [PI, Synergistic Writing Project on Identity and Agency in Southeast Asia]
- 2008 Gender Piety of Muslim Women in Thailand, Supported by Friedrich Ebert Foundation [PhD Grant]