Opinion: Thailand relaxing its student haircut rule is a victory on the road to individualism

In a victory for Thai students everywhere, new regulations governing hair growth for students was published in the Royal Gazette on May 1 meaning that both male and female students can now grow their hair long.

There are, of course, a few caveats. Both boys and girls must ensure than their hairstyle is ‘appropriate’ which means no perms, no bleach, and no facial hair allowed.

The regulations also allow individual school boards to apply specific hairstyles guide for their school as long as it follows the regulations and its conditions.

An important first step

The most interesting part of this announcement is the opening statement which reads “to reflect changing times […] and to respect human dignity.”

While the statement may seem progressive on the surface, it isn’t necessarily all that forward-looking. Many say that this not even really change.

Nevertheless, it is still a victory.

It proves that the student’s voice is powerful and we can overcome obstacles together.

Although there’s still more work to be done, this is an important first step.

A brief history

In fact, this is not the first victory we have had.

During Yingluck’s administration, the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance’s successfully petitioned the government to relax their hair rules once before.

During that time and due to our pressure, the Ministry of Education mandated that schools would no longer have to follow the 1972 regulation on hair but would be allowed to follow the 1975 proclamation which was enacted after the student uprisings.

But then the coup happened. And like most coups in Thailand, everything was reset.

Finishing what we started

Now this announcement on May 1 is our second victory. We will finish what we started during the Yingluck government. This new regulation, enacted by the Ministry of Education will be applied to schools across Thailand.

This change is the second victory. It is to finish what we have started during Yingluck’s government. The current minister of education has enacted the new regulations which will be applied to schools across Thailand.

Make no mistake, this was not an extemporaneous decision.

This decision came about from the constant efforts of the Thai students, not only the students that are campaigning today but from the combined efforts of all our forebears.

And this is just the beginning. Groups like Education for Liberation Siam (ELS) are continuing the work that we are starting. The group has held an exhibition called “Education Kills Me” at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) twice for the past years to reflect on problems Thai students face in the Thai education system.

Problematic application

We should also not rest when it comes to this new regulation and think that the job is done. It is unclear how they will be implemented – though it is mentioned that now students can have appropriate long hair.

What is appropriate? Who gets to decide appropriateness and for whom?

Is it the same people who define what ‘Thai’ is or what ‘Good’ is?

For instance, when you put Thai in front of democracy, you know what it means. The same goes for when you put ‘good’ in front of people.

It is ironic that the new rules would highlight “human dignity” yet insist on appropriateness.

What if this isn’t enough and students would like to stand for their rights to make decisions for their own body? Will school authorities punish them for their choices?

This is not the wholesale change that we campaigned for, schools are still given the power to arbitrarily decide what is and is not appropriate. They still have the means to punish us whether it is with a grade reduction or other punitive measures. The fight is not over.

Clear eyed and aware

Students are not too optimistic, this is important. We must be clear-eyed and aware of the issues until we see real triumph.

We must continue pressuring the school systems and the Minister of Education to actually ‘respect human dignity’ and to educate each other on our rights as citizens and students.

What this victory teaches us is the power of our voice and the necessity with which we must demand our rights to do what we please with our bodies.

In doing so, we will become individuals that society and the schools must respect instead of empty vassals for the state to control. It may seem trivial to others but by being allowed just the personal liberation of hair choice, the Thai student is emancipated from the clone-like robots with which the state demands and have built over the past century.

So to celebrate our first victory and push for more, we have set up the Association of Youth for the Abolition of Student Haircut Rules to continue our fight for progress and rights. We hope you will join us.


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