Women bring 'fertility revolution' to Thailand

Posted: 10 March 2003

Thailand has probably done more to defuse its population bomb than any other country in Southeast Asia, thanks mainly to its women, says Mechai Viravaidya, a family planning activist and chairman of the country's Population and Community Development Association

Medical and demographic experts say Thai men have been notoriously slow in changing old habits that contributed to runaway population growth as well as sexually transmitted diseases.

"Thank god for Thai women," said Senator Viravaidya. "The women dragged Thai men along, like the tail of a horse," in leading a revolution in sexual attitudes that helped to bring Thailand's population growth under control and lay the foundations for rapid industrial development. "Otherwise we'd have been in a real mess," he said.

Today Thailand's population is about 63 million, with a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, while the Philippine population, in contrast, hasswelled to about 81 million and the fertility rate is 3.23.

During the same period, the gross domestic product per capita in the two countries has shifted from rough equivalence to a nearly two-to-one ratio in Thailand's favour.

Smaller cake

Because of the slower rate of growth, said Mechai, "you don't have to divide the cake into too many pieces. This has been instrumental inreducing poverty, allowing more people to be educated, which made them more ready to work and become more skilled. It helped take Thailand out of the (economic) doldrums."

Mechai's high-profile contraceptive-promotion campaigns over the past 25 years have earned him the nickname "Mr Condom". Thais often refer to condoms as "mechais".

His publicity stunts - such as handing out condom balloons in Patpong and other notorious Thai red ight districts - have helped de-sensitise Thais about condoms and helped make the country a model in the battle against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Jingle bells

"We had a song, equivalent in the West to "Jingle Bells", but we changed all the words to ontraceptives. So every child learned everycontraceptive method from that song," Mechai said.

But despite the important role played by Mechai - as well as "mechais" - the contraceptive Pill, and the willingness of Thai women to embrace it as a means of taking control of their reproductive life, has been far more important in lowing population growth, Mechai said.

"The desire for large families is gone," he said. Consequently, the Thai population "will still increase, but very slowly, and this is a blessing".

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Germany), 27 February 2003.