From where I stand: “After living with despair, I decided to make a difference to the lives of women”
Hannah is a survivor of violence and an advocate for gender equality in Thailand. Galvanized into action by the #MeToo movement, she created a local group supporting other women, and now also leads an advocacy group on violence against women.
Date: Wednesday, August 7, 2019
At the age of 19 I was in an abusive relationship. I never really talked about it, but 14 years later, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and the #metoo hashtag started trending, I had a physical response. I couldn’t stop crying in despair, I couldn’t sleep. I never understood trigger warnings until this moment. It struck me, if so many Hollywood actresses had found it difficult to come forward, what hope was there for normal women, for women in developing countries, for women all over the world?
“The best part for me is hearing stories of the friendships that have blossomed though the group. We are there for each other through the good times and the difficult times.”
After some time living with this feeling of despair, I decided to channel my energies into some projects in my community, hoping to make a small bit of difference to the lives of women. I currently live in Bangkok where I work in an international school. The first thing I did was to start a meetup group for women in the city. Bangkok can be very focused on men and I felt it was important to bring women across the city together for social gatherings and also to form a support network.
Wonder Women of Bangkok currently has just over 2,300 members. The best part for me is hearing stories of the friendships that have blossomed though the group. We are there for each other through the good times and the difficult times; new jobs, successful projects, celebrations but also relationship break downs, health problems, or employment issues. We have built a community - being part of Wonder Women of Bangkok means supporting all people who identify as women in the city, in any way we can.
In 2017 I also started working with Bangkok Rising, a local advocacy group that is focused on raising awareness about eliminating gender-based violence in Thailand and beyond. In the past year and a half, I have staged The Vagina Monologues three times, once within the United Nations in Bangkok, and have also put on an original performance called Bangkok Has Me Now. Proceeds from these events went to a women’s refuge in Chiang Rai and the UN Women’s initiative to help Rohingya women. It has been interesting making more people aware of what The Vagina Monologues actually are. People have a lot of preconceptions, and some are worried about attending. There’s nothing to fear when going to watch it. To explain it in its simplest terms -Eve Ensler’s play takes audiences on a rollercoaster journey of womanhood.
As well as raising money and awareness, it has been important to me to get more men involved in our projects. Our first staging of The Vagina Monologues had about six men in the audience (2 per cent of the audience). I made it a priority to get more men involved and the year after about 30-40% of the audience were male. I spoke earlier about Bangkok being male-dominated: However, I do feel as that at least in the arts scene, a shift is happening, a dialogue is opening, and some mutual understanding is starting to happen.
I have now taken over the running of Bangkok Rising. This year we hope to add to our theatre performances with sporting events, school and university visits as well as other artistic uprisings. We also help to connect people with services regarding domestic violence in Thailand.”
Hannah Meltzer, 35, is a teacher, drama director, activist, creator of Wonder Women Bangkok community, and a leader of Bangkok Rising, a local advocacy group that is focused on raising awareness about eliminating gender-based violence in Thailand and beyond. She was also the director for the performance of The Vagina Monologues as part of UNiTE campaign, led by UN Women. Her work supports Sustainable Development Goal 5, which aims to promote gender equality and end violence against all women and girls.