`Don't Dress Sexy' Advice Triggers an Echo of #MeToo in Thailand

(Bloomberg) -- A Thai government official’s suggestion that women should dress conservatively to avoid sexual harassment during the nation’s new year festival has sparked a rebuttal under the hashtag #DontTellMeHowToDress.

Crowded water-gun battles that leave revelers soaked are a distinctive feature of the Songkran celebrations from Friday through Sunday, prompting the official to warn women against wearing revealing outfits. At least one survey indicates harassment is pervasive during the festival.

Cindy Bishop, a Bangkok-based Thai-American model, actress and television celebrity, said she created #DontTellMeHowToDress to put the onus back on how men behave instead of the way women dress. Her video on the topic has been viewed almost 500,000 times on Facebook and Instagram, and the hashtag has created more buzz in Thailand than #MeToo.

"Maybe the reason this is taking off faster is because they’re not coming out and accusing anyone," Bishop said. "Our society is quite conservative, and for someone to come out and point a finger at someone who’s assaulted her is huge, I don’t know if we’re ready for it yet."

Some 59 percent of 1,650 women and girls surveyed last month, ranging in age from 10 to 40, said they’d been sexually harassed during Songkran, according to the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, a nonprofit rights organization in Bangkok.

The Thai government estimates that 547,000 foreigners will fly into Thailand for Songkran, generating revenue of 26.3 billion baht ($845 million). Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said harassment shouldn’t be tolerated.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.