The article was about the “long neck women of Thailand.”
Some of the members of the Kayan ethnic group's women wear coils made of brass rings around their necks that weigh up to 25 pounds to depress their collar bones so their necks appear longer. The problem is that these women are actually Burmese refugees, and the Thai authorities will not allow them to take asylum overseas because the novelty of these women’s neck coils is good for tourism. They are being forced, as the Marie Claire article states, “to live in a virtual human zoo.”
Zember, a 23-year-old woman Kayan woman, removed her coil to protest her captivity.
The 500 or so Kayans (also known as Padaung) who live in Thailand fled the brutal military regime in neighboring Burma (also known as Myanmar) two decades ago, and they have been confined in three guarded villages on the northern Thai border ever since. An estimated 40,000 tourists per year, many of them Americans, pay about $8 each to gawk at the women’s giraffe-like appearance. In return, the long-neck women earn a paltry salary of 1500 baht ($45) a month selling souvenirs and postcards. Few tourists are aware of the scandalous situation, Zember explains, because the women’s wages are docked if they discuss their plight. So they “smile and say nothing.”
Zember and her family were accepted for resettlement by
in 2006 as part of a wide-scale program organized by the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR. Five other long-neck families are also due to relocate to New Zealand New Zealandand but lack the exit permits. Finland
Because the Thai authorities will not issue exit permits, these families are trapped.
“As official refugees, the Kayans have a right either to resettlement abroad or to full Thai citizenship. They are being given neither,” says Kitty McKinsey, the (United Nations High Commission for Refugees’s) regional spokeswoman in
. She points out that over the past two years, Bangkok has issued exit permits for more than 20,000 other Burmese refugees who lack the Kayans’ commercial value. “The Kayans should be treated the same as other refugees,” McKinsey says. (bolded words, added) Thailand
The women are punished (with docked wages) for doing anything modern because it interferes with their image that is being sold to tourists. Zember and her friend Ma Lo, both of whom removed their neck coils, no longer receive pay and cannot find other work because of their refugee status. The local government refuses to move on this issue because the province these villages are located in are poor and depend heavily on tourism for their livelihood. The three villages of the long-neck women do not have basic sanitation and medical care.
Women as commodities, stripped of their human rights and their rights as refugees, because of their commercial value. Apparently the UNHCR has tried a tourist boycott, but it did not work out. So, please, beware when you become a tourist. Who could it be hurting?
Works consulted for the non-quoted portions: TimesOnline, Peoples of the World Foundation