The Thai government has drawn criticism for its decision to stop admitting women to a prominent local police academy starting next year. Officials have refused to explain the rationale behind their decision to revert the Royal Police Cadet Academy (RPCA) to a male-only institution, merely announcing it as a change in policy. "It's [the new] policy," Worawut Sripakhon, a captain at the academy, told Thai media. "We're not allowed to give any more information than that." The century-old institution, which is based in Bangkok, admits 300 new students a year. Until now, this has included scores of women. Critics fear it signals a renewed attempt to bar women from key positions of influence in a conservative nation where the levers of power have long been wielded almost exclusively by men. "This is a very backwards move for women's rights and women's safety in Thailand," said Jadet Chaowilai, director of advocacy group Women and Men Progressive Movement. Rights advocates say that with fewer women officers on the force, female victims of crimes may be further victimized, especially when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assaults. Thai police have long faced allegations that they routinely turn a blind eye to reported cases of domestic violence and rape
, including high-profile cases that involve foreign tourists. According to the current practice, women who report having been raped are often interviewed by female officers to put them more at ease. Critics say this could be compromised if fewer women enter the force, as could the practice of having female officers conduct body searches of female suspects on the street. Thailand
is already facing an acute shortage of female officers, who account for just 8 percent of the nation's 230,000 police. The government only allowed them to start training as police in 2009. In the decade since, several hundred women have graduated from the RPCA. Some veteran male officers have openly voiced their dissatisfaction with the new male-only admission policy. "I strongly disagree with this decision," Pol. Lt. Sompoch Learchwittayathavorn, 57, told ucanews.com. "It limits the rights of women." He said female officers serve vital roles in the force but are not generally suited to all tasks.
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"Dealing with violent criminals is generally better left to male officers," he said. "However, there are many other duties that women can do even better than men. These include investigations, community outreach and administrative tasks."