Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul told Thai Enquirer that the fight for equality is her primary motivation and that she strives for a more equal Thai society after being selected for the BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2020.
“I am happy to know that people are seeing what I am trying to do but there are also many other women out there who also deserved to be mentioned,” she said.
Rung said that she did not consider herself to be an especially inspirational or influential figure but was happy with the nomination since gender discrimination still exist in both the Thai and the global society.
Rung, 22, is one of the co-leaders of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a core component of the student-led pro-democracy movement.
The student-led pro-democracy protests have taken place over the last five months and have called not only for the resignation of the military-backed Prayut Chan-ocha government but also a reformation of the previously venerated and untouchable royal institution.
Rung first became known to the public when she read out the pro-democracy protestors’ ten demands to reform the royal institution at a rally in Thammasat’s Rangsit campus on August 10.
Since then, she has been one of the most recognizable leaders of the current pro-democracy movement in Thailand.
“The change that I want to see the most is equality in the Thai society,” she told Thai Enquirer.
She said that gender empowerment and equality was a key component of that dream.
“Women should be more involved in politics because the system was made by men and favours them,” she said.
Rung’s fearlesness in questioning long-taboo subjects in Thai society has not escaped notice of the authorities and the government.
She has been charged five times for sedition by the military-backed government for making speeches and participating at pro-democracy protest.
She could face up to 30 years in prison if found guilty on all charges.
Royalist supporters have also taken aim at Rung. Nitipong Hornak, a songwriter and founder of Grammy Entertainment, filed a lese majeste complaint against her just last week.
According to one source in the coalition government, Rung is firmly in the crosshair of the Prayut administration.
“She is public enemy number one. More so than Anon [Numpha], more than Penguin [Parit Chiwarak] because she was the one that crossed the line in such a public way during that speech at Thammasat,” the source inside the Prime Minister’s Office told Thai Enquirer.
“They want her silenced and they will pursue all legal means,” he said.
Despite the threat of legal action, Rung said that she was not afraid.
“We should be able to criticize the royal institution because it is one of the political institutions in this society. Criticism will lead to the development and improvement of the institution,” she said.
“We cannot have an institution that does not change with times.”