Thai model targets 'shocking' gender violence in new UN role

Some 30-40% of women in Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea suffer workplace sexual harassment.

BANGKOK: When Thai authorities told women to dress modestly to avoid sexual assault during New Year festivities two years ago, model Cindy Bishop hit back online - turning her into a prominent voice for gender equality in Asia.

With an Instagram video hashtagged #DontTellMeHowToDress, Bishop's bold stand quickly evolved into a broader movement against gender-based violence and a lack of opportunities for women and girls in Thailand and beyond.

"It's quite shocking the amount of violence... in Asia and the Pacific, probably the most widespread violation of human rights in the region," said Bishop, 41, who hosts the popular reality TV show "Asia's Next Top Model".

Bishop was appointed last month as the first goodwill ambassador in the Asia Pacific region for UN Women, where she plans to focus her campaigning on violence against women and economic empowerment during her two-year stint.

In Asia, one in two women have experienced physical and sexual violence in the last 12 months, according to UN Women, compared to one in three globally.

Some 30-40% of women in Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea suffer workplace sexual harassment.

Bishop's campaign over the past two years has been based around a mobile exhibition featuring clothing worn by victims of sexual assault, which aims to highlight the culture of victim-blaming.

She hopes to launch a virtual version of the exhibition, which also includes photographs that tackle the stigma around female sexuality and a list of myths and misconceptions about sexual violence.

"It's not just as easy as one day everything's going to change, because it's generational and cultural norms that lead to... this kind of violence," said Bishop, who was Miss World Thailand in 1996.

"In Asia, there seems to be this kind of hesitation to speak about sexuality," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Earlier this month, Bishop published an illustrated book called "My Body My Rules", which teaches children about concepts such as equality and consent, and how to deal with difficult or threatening situations, or speak up about abuse.

The two characters in the book are loosely based on her eight-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

"It's going to take a lot of effort from a lot of different entities... and most importantly men and boys," Bishop said.

"When I wrote the book, it's not because I have a daughter. It's equally so because I have a son, and we should be teaching boys how to respect women."

During her two-year appointment with UN Women, the Thai-American model and actress said she hoped to encourage women to speak up about domestic abuse.

"So often when a woman is abused in a family, it's a family affair and we shouldn't talk about it, hush-hush. Or when assaulted the first question is what were you wearing or what were you doing to provoke him," Bishop said.

"These perceptions are harder to erase but it needs to be done. That's where the challenge lies."

- Reuters
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