Thailand: Pinee Moonkaew

We, the Pakakayaw, are not just insects in the forest. People can understand this, even those who are from different tribes. We are human beings, all who have life, mind, and spirit."

— Pinee Moonkaew

Pinee Moonkaew (born 1961) is a Karen woman who proudly calls her tribe "Pakakayaw", which literally means "we are human beings". At 44, she has transformed from an ordinary woman to one who fights for her people’s right to their land. She is one of the leading voices demanding the participation of ethnic people in natural resource management - in particular the watersheds. In spite of a logging ban and other regulations, Thailand has been suffering from rampant deforestation.

In the past ten years, the ethnic people of the Wang River Basin have been demanding their right to their land. They have walked from their high mountain to Bangkok to tell the residents of the capital city stories about how the ethnic people live with nature. Their protests are aimed at reaching an agreement with the state to allow tribal people to have a say in the management of the watershed. In these protests, women always stand in the frontline, side by side with the male leadership, to demand justice. For ten years, Pinee Moonkaew has traveled from her highland home to other parts of the country to bring her people’s message that the tribal people have a right to manage their natural resources. She wants to correct the notion among urban residents that the tribal people are destroying the watershed. She wants the urban residents to understand that the ethnic people cannot be held liable for deforestation because, although many of them rely on nature, they do not simply take away from nature, but replenish what they use to keep the ecological balance. Pinee Moonkaew’s life changed when the government, claiming to uphold national forest reserve laws, announced that people living in the forests must leave their homes. In response, 50,000 people, many of them ethnic people, signed a draft of the Community Forest Act and proposed it for consideration by the Parliament. The struggle has motivated Pinee Moonkaew, an ordinary woman, to come to the forefront and demand justice for ethnic women. "The problems affect all of us, men and women alike," she says. "The Pakakayaw hold that their struggles will not succeed if women are not included, as they believe the paddy rice fields belong to men, but the farmland belongs to women. As such we have to fight together."

Pakakayaw tribe