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Pushing for rights: Senah Deesa-eh at the UN

25 May 2023

In November, minority activists gathered in Geneva at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues to make their voices heard. Among them was Senah Deesa-eh, vice-president of Thailand’s Southern Association of Disabilities (SAD). The organization works with people with disabilities in Thailand’s Southern Border Provinces (SBPs), where Malay Muslims are the majority community, and the largest minority in Thailand.  

Her visit to the UN Minority Forum 2022 was her first time in Europe and her first time conducting international level advocacy. Watch this video to hear from Senah as she reflects on her time in Geneva. 

Senah is SAD’s secretary but leads much of their outreach work in the community, especially focussing on Yala province where she is from. Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla make up the SBPs, provinces on the Thailand-Malaysia border and the traditional territory of Pattani-Malay-speaking Muslims. A protracted conflict in the region and its underdevelopment have had disproportionate effects on the lives of persons with disabilities there. 

Malay Muslims with disabilities face the compounded effects of being from an ethno-religious and linguistic minority and face wide-ranging violations of rights from health to political participation. Malay Muslim women with disabilities are made particularly vulnerable, owing to multiple and intersecting discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, language, religion, and disability. Through activities ranging from campaigning to training, the SAD aims to protect the rights of and eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in the SBPs. 

Senah was born with a physical disability and has been involved in advocacy for many years, mainly through visiting people with disabilities in the community, organizing events, distributing aid and working with local authorities to push for and implement initiatives for people with disabilities in the area. She has also set up a small farm and workshop at her home where people with disabilities in the area can come to learn how to fix assistive devices, plant vegetables, cook and gain other income-generating skills. Amazingly, she does all this part time while working as an administrative assistant at the local government offices. 

Watch video interview

Photo: Screenshot from the video.