Lone motherhood in Thailand: towards reducing social stigma and increasing social support

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Rangsima Wiwatwongwana

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

This thesis aims to explore pathways into and through lone motherhood in Thailand, with a particular focus on the way in which social stigma and the range of forms of social support – from family, state, workplace, community and support services – shape lone mothers’ experiences. The thesis is informed by existing work in the field of gender and social policy which has focused on improving conditions for lone mothers, particularly through the concept of developing “women-friendly” welfare states (Hernes, 1987). However, existing Western theories of the role of the state in addressing gender inequality do not completely fit the Thai context.

The thesis therefore aims to contribute knowledge about the experience of lone motherhood to gender and social policy debates as well as to debates about gender and social and cultural practices. In-depth narrative interviews were conducted with all types of lone mothers: including unmarried pregnant women, never married mothers, deserted mothers, divorced mothers and widows with dependent children (total 25) and seven experts in the field working in NGOs, in Bangkok, Thailand.

The study found that all categories of lone mothers experience various forms of stigma, through processes such as labelling and discrimination. In addition, lone mothers receive very little support. Importantly, a relationship was found between stigma and social support whereby lone mothers did not expect or demand support because they perceived themselves through the prevailing labels and forms of discrimination as “bad” daughter, “bad” wife and /or “bad” mother. This study gave lone mothers and the experts who work with them an opportunity to reflect on the Thai gender regime and the Thai welfare regime and provide suggestions for change. The thesis thus contributes valuable information for the overarching project of moving Thailand towards “women-friendliness” and addressing gender inequality.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Susan Goodwin