Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

Kin Khao Duai Gan Kha/Let’s Share a Meal

Kin khao duai gan kha (let’s eat together) is one of the first phrases I learnt in Thailand. It often marked a moment when strangers became friends. Getting to know and love the food of this country and connecting it with memories of food from my homeland made me feel at home here.

Food brings people together. Sharing a meal with friends and family is one of the simplest pleasures of life. People across the world, rich and poor alike, take pleasure in cooking and eating together. Food memories are special for all of us. Years after we have eaten a meal, we remember its taste and smell, the place, and people with whom we had shared it and how we had felt at that time.


Questions & Concerns

But we can’t talk about food without talking about its absence. About hunger and malnutrition. About the inequality and unfairness in our food systems. About the degradation of environment that we have caused to produce more food. There is enough food to feed everyone, but hunger and malnutrition are a reality for at least 10% of the world’s population. The 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI) projects that the situation may worsen in the coming years. The report notes that unless timely action is taken, today’s youth are poised to inherit food systems that are unsustainable, inequitable, and non-inclusive.

While an increasing number of middle-class people around the world are becoming conscious about their diet and opting for healthy food and organic produce, the urban working class is increasingly reliant on fast food. Yesterday’s smallholder farmers and rural crafts persons are today’s urban migrant workers in precarious jobs. They do not have time or space to grow their own food. Nor do they have money to buy chemical and pesticide-free food. How, then, can low-wage workers ensure that they and their children have enough food and adequate nutrition? Shouldn’t healthy food be available to all at affordable prices? The systemic and policy level challenges to achieving food security for all are overwhelming. But the good news is that activism around food sovereignty is also getting stronger and there are many initiatives in different countries to bring about systemic changes. How can we link their work with ours and learn from them?

Connecting Social Justice Movements

These questions and concerns have become urgent for GAATW alongside our deepening engagement with women workers in low-wage jobs. Women Workers Forum, one of our core programmes, has created a space for intersectoral and inter-movement dialogues among women in a range of low-wage jobs. The specific context of each group is different but there are similarities among them. Some members of the Forum are based in rural areas and work on the land as agricultural wage labourers or smallholder farmers. Thanks to the sustainable agriculture movements and state support, they have a high degree of food literacy. It is the urban workers, often internal migrants, who have a low level of food security. They earn more than the rural women workers, but costs of living in the cities are also higher. Domestic workers who live in their employers’ homes often talk about inadequate food and inability to cook their own meals. Those who live with families in the cities live in cramped spaces. Many also have meagre and uncertain incomes, nominal or nonexistent social protection and long working hours. We wanted to start a conversation about food with them. To find out what they eat, how much nutrition they get and what steps can be taken to make their diet healthy, tasty, and affordable.

Following a discussion with our Thai member Just Economy and Labour Institute (JELI), we decided to co-organise preliminary workshops with two groups of women workers. With World Food Day round the corner, it seemed timely to have conversations about food. Our first workshop took place on 12 October in Bangkok, with a group of gig workers who work in food and service delivery. The other one was held on 14 October in Chiang Mai, with a group of Shan women employed in different informal jobs. JELI works with both groups to support their learning initiatives and collective advocacy.


We invited Studio Horjhama to be our knowledge partner in the workshops. Ann (Sasithon Kamrit), the founder of Studio Horjhama, is a theatre and food activist and an old friend of GAATW. I had met her more than 20 years ago when she was part of the Gabfai Community Theatre Group, a GAATW member that works with Hill Tribe children in Northern Thailand to protect their rights. Ann has now combined her love for the environment, marginalised communities, theatre, and cooking. She works with indigenous communities in Thailand to preserve their food cultures and is an active member of the Food4Change campaign. Led by BioThai Foundation, the campaign mobilises consumers to push for structural change in Thailand’s food system. It envisions “a system where smallholder farmers’ rights are respected, and where small-scale food producers and local vendors can make a decent living, and where the environment is protected from contamination and destructive infrastructure development”.


The Food Literacy Workshop

Workshops on food must include cooking and eating together! And that is what we did.

In Bangkok our venue was the beautiful Growing Diversity Park of Bio-Thai Foundation in Nonthaburi. Ann and her colleague Ut (Chawisa Uotamugn) came from Chiang Mai on the previous evening and were ready to welcome us at the venue. Eighteen women gig workers had set aside their day’s work to participate in the workshop.

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After a brief introduction, Ann and Ut led the group to prepare four simple and tasty items - fresh spring rolls with rice paper, fish and vegetables, a delicious dip to go with it, steamed spring rolls with meat and vegetables, and a clear soup using some easily available and inexpensive vegetables. No MSG was used in the food and all ingredients were sourced from the local organic farmers’ market. “Spring rolls are familiar to us, but these taste so fresh! I can’t believe that food can taste so good even without MSG”, exclaimed Yok, one of the participants. They talked about not being able to grow anything in the city. They also said that their working hours did not allow them much time to cook either, so they mostly bought all their meals. “But I learnt today that I should find some vegetables from my local market and with a little planning I would be able to cook at least a few meals every week”, said Nok.

Soon it was time for lunch and the kitchen staff of Bio-Thai Foundation served a delicious meal for us. After lunch, Ann and Ut led us through some group work. We had to think about the meals we often ate and see if we knew the source of their ingredients. Barring a few, most of us only named the shop from where we bought the food. The last session of the day was an exercise to look at some of the popular snacks available in local supermarkets, read the information printed on the packets, write it down on a sheet and share with the group. As we looked at the information, it was clear to all of us that the popular items such as Lays potato chips, Pocky chocolate sticks, jellybeans, condensed milk, instant noodles, and the Orange Drink have hardly any food value. Worse still, many of these contain ingredients that may cause harm to our health. The ubiquitous convenience stores and the advertising and packaging gimmicks have made these snacks every child’s (and some adults’) favourite. How can local snacks compete with these? Some of the workshop participants said that they will talk to their children about this and encourage them to eat healthy snacks which are available in local markets.

The workshop in Chiang Mai was similar to the one in Bangkok. Studio Horjhama, Ann’s lovely mud-house in Mae Rim, was our venue. The participants this time were women of Shan ethnicity living in Chiang Mai. Although some were migrants from Myanmar, most younger women were born and/or brought up in Thailand. All of them could read and write Thai very well. Some were students doing part-time work in the hospitality sector, others held various odd jobs. Like the gig workers, these women also enjoyed the workshop very much. It made them think seriously about what they eat, where it comes from, what goes into their favourite snacks and what nutritional value it has. Interestingly, some of the participants were students of home economics and food and nutrition are part of their curriculum. They all agreed that healthier and tastier food options are available, and some are within their budget. Some of them also said that it will be possible for them to grow a few things in pots or in their backyard. The first step would be to be mindful and look for options.     

What Next?



Would workshops like this have any impact? Aren’t the problems too big to be addressed by such simple initiatives? Clearly these are not just behavioural problems. It is unfair to expect working class people to change their habits when nutritious food is very expensive. The states have a big role in making healthy food available to all.

But we need to start somewhere. I am not sure if all participants will completely stay away from junk food. But now they will surely think twice about it. At least some of them will be able to resist the temptation and opt for real food.


Some of our participants in the Bangkok workshop became very concerned by information they saw on two posters in the meeting room of Bio-Thai Foundation. One was worrying statistics from the Bureau of Nutrition in the Ministry of Public Health (2021) that the child stunting rate among Thai children aged 0-5 years is 11.7% and among children aged 6-14 years it is 9.7%. The other poster shared findings from recent research carried out by Thai-PAN, which found that 67% of the fruits and vegetables at five supermarkets and 11 provincial markets had chemical residuals that exceeded the allowed limits. . As Ann explained, it is ironical that the level food safety and security is going down in Thailand which is considered the World’s Kitchen!

Organisations and networks such as Bio-Thai, Thai-PAN, Slow Food-Thailand, and many others are working at community and policy levels to change the current food system in the country. Similar organisations and movements are active in other parts of the world too. Change may take time, but it is possible.

At GAATW we can try to bring the knowledge created by our colleagues in the food sovereignty movement to the people we work with. We can integrate some of the sustainable practices into our work. These conversations on food that we have started with women workers should continue. 

Here is to many more meals together then! Or as the people of Akha tribe say, Horjhama/Let’s go and eat!

(With grateful thanks to the members of Women Workers Forum in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Keng and Yao from JELI, Ann, Ut and their team at Studio Horjhama and friends at the Bio Thai Foundation.


Picture Credit: Alfie Gordo, GAATW

Text: Bandana Pattanaik, GAATW


Meeting domestic workers over a meal of miang pla tu



Visit Summary


MAP FOUNDATION AND GAATW | 17 September 2023

On a rainy mid-September morning in Chiang Mai, 20 women migrants from Shan state in Myanmar were gathering outside the MAP Foundation office. Their bright pink, red and maroon clothes were in stark contrast against the grey, cloudy sky. Some had come on their motorbikes, others had taken one or two public buses to reach by 8:30. The women were domestic workers and had come on their day off to attend a Food Literacy workshop organised by MAP and GAATW

By 9 AM, everyone had boarded the songthaews that took us to Mae Rim, a short 30-minute trip from Chiang Mai. It was not a quiet ride. The women were making selfies and videos, chatting about food, work, employers, and partners.

MAP is a Thai NGO that provides assistance to migrant workers in the region and advocates for their human and labour rights. The organising of migrant domestic workers is led by Pim, a migrant worker from Myanmar. After working as a domestic worker for nearly 17 years, and after attending many trainings by MAP, Pim is now part of the organisation’s staff. Her presence helps to create a link between the GAATW team and the workers.


By 10 AM, we reached our destination in Mae Rim: Studio Horjhama. We walked into a mud house and verdant home-cum-workshop space curated and run by Ann-Sasithorn Khamrit. Ann was once a dramatist with the Gabfai Community Theatre group, a GAATW member that uses theatre and art to engage with rural communities. For the last seven years, Ann has shifted her focus to food security and the message that food choices can change the world for the better. She procures products from local producers who practise organic and sustainable farming. She then spreads knowledge about local food preparation styles through different mediums like mobile kitchens, grocery cars, collaborative campaigns, programmes for children and workshops like this one. She was the facilitator for the first session of the day. Her past work, cultural sensitivity and awareness helped in creating a cohesive learning environment.


The mud-house studio reminded many of the women of their own homes in Shan state. Welcomed by Ann and her team, we gathered around a wide wooden table. The cooking menu consisted of miang pla tu (mackerel, vegetables and spices wrapped in rice paper), dried fish soup and dumplings.

Pim explained that this workshop was a way of strengthening women’s knowledge in preparing food, as well as a space for gathering of peers. A recent ILO report argues for skills recognition of domestic workers as a way of improving their working conditions and ability to choose employment. This calls for a shift away from the perception of domestic work as unskilled labour despite the range of skills that women apply in these roles.

For the women in our workshop, their working conditions are heavily controlled by the employers and for many, their documentation and registration are tied to the employers, which means they have very little bargaining power. In the past, they recognised behaviours that were physically abusive or exploitative and quit those jobs for better ones.

“I left the restaurant because of my abusive employer. He was angry and he hit me once. After that, I met a nice woman who gave me work at an orange orchid. She did not pay me but gave me a place to stay and three meals a day”, said one of the domestic workers. She doesn’t work at the orchard anymore.


The room was filled with the aroma of the ingredients. The women took turns to chop, pound, mix, fry and plate dishes. As we concluded the cooking segment of the workshop, the women were thrilled by the flavours, techniques, and how they didn’t have to use MSG, which is perceived as unhealthy or addictive by many. Ann introduced ingredients that can be used as an alternative to MSG for umami flavour like sun-dried fish. She taught us how to maximise the use of ingredients by using all parts of it in different segments of the cooking process and encouraged waste reduction in food preparation. We also learnt about food presentation. While many of the women said they would use these techniques when cooking for their employers, they also said they would use these with their children and parents.

For the second half of the day, we discussed the barriers to sustainability being a self-organised group. This session was translated from English to Thai by a Thai-speaking local translator who was also part of MAP Foundation staff a few years ago. We invited Pim to share her vision for the group as she has been working with domestic workers for several years. She shared that what she meant by sustainability was for the group to become a cooperative and have independent resources to run their activities. In the future, she hopes that the group will be trained to fundraise and be less dependent on others, including NGOs. The social enterprise of making and selling dishwashing liquid was one such example of raising funds. Similar collectivised efforts by the members based on their skills can be upscaled to building a cooperative.


Overtime work is one of the biggest barriers to sustaining the group. The women spent their limited time off for their own chores and family and had very little time for group activities and regular meetings. To understand overtime work better, we did a clock exercise where women mapped their work day on a 24-hour clock. The clock was divided into time spent at work and on themselves and personal chores between the hours of waking up and going to bed. More than half of the women worked up to 16 hours a day. Those who do not live with employers worked multiple jobs, in two or three households every day. Some also worked in massage parlours, food stalls or selling goods.

The women who lived independently worked much longer because they wanted to earn more income. The women who live with employers worked overtime but to a lesser extent. They shared that they were often interrupted during rest or meals or were monitored by their employers. Nearly all of them were penalised when they tried to take leave outside of the mutually negotiated rest days.

It was a good sharing amongst members of the group who learned about the work conditions of other women. The clock exercise was used to self-reflect and to construct a context in which the lived experiences of the group members can be seen as a source of information to empower other members.

Many of the women were single mothers and wanted their children to have access to education. They were proud to be ‘leaders of their family’, who earn and save money, raise children and pay school fees, and support parents, children and save for the future. Some also said they had greater sexual autonomy. This was met with laughter but also with agreement. Often considered indecent or bawdy, the topic of sexual freedom and expression gets very little space for discussion.

When asked about why it is difficult to get more women to join the collective, we received two responses: first, that the women are shy and lack confidence. And second, they think about joining only when they need some help. The group believes that it takes time to build trust and connection reflecting on their own journey with the group.

In Thailand, the access to labour rights by domestic workers depends on the type of employers. If they are directly employed, which was most in this group, they are outside the purview of the Labour Protection Act. This means, among others, no minimum wage, maximum hours of work, and no overtime compensation. However, those who are employed by businesses are covered in full by the labour law. There were very few of them in this group.

The group discussed breach of labour rights and its absence for domestic workers like minimum wage, rest days and difficulty in changing jobs. MAP Foundation focusses on educating workers about their rights through in-person trainings and MAP radio, which discusses the rights of domestic workers every Friday from 12 to 1 PM. Women said they listened to it and were sometimes invited as co-hosts.

Apart from not being paid minimum wage, the workers were also frustrated by their working conditions, wage deductions for taking leave, late payments, and having to depend on their employers for their registration and documentation.


At the end of the day, the workers said they were happy to be part of such a self-organised group because it gave them the support to deal with various situations with employers or documentation as migrant workers in Thailand.

Written by Srishty Anand


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Songs recorded by Messenger Band, Cambodia

Srishty Anand

In July, the GAATW Secretariat organised a five-day Women Workers Forum (WWF) meeting with participants from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and India. The women work in different occupations and geographic locations and speak different languages (Hindi, Khmer, Thai, English, Bahasa). To create a space of co-learning and sharing, we onboarded translators and rented translation devices. This blog focusses on the role of translation in activism and social movement building at the level of a transnational collective that has come together to create a vision of social transformation.

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A pesar de la existencia de marcos normativos, leyes y decretos que reafirman la responsabilidad de los Estados en la lucha contra la Trata de personas, en América Latina y el Caribe siguen persistiendo condiciones que impiden la asunción de esta obligación en su totalidad y mantienen a las personas en una condición de permanente vulnerabilidad: desigualdad, desempleo, pobreza, violencias, escaso acceso a la educación superior y la formación profesional. A ellas se han sumado las consecuencias de la pandemia de COVID-19 en la economía y la sociedad y los impactos desproporcionados de la emergencia climática en la población de la región. 

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