University of Sunderland study exposes hardships facing UK-based Thai women
Research has uncovered isolation, anxiety, abuse and discrimination among Southeast Asian women living in England who have married British men.
All the women who took part in the study, at the University of Sunderland, highlighted the marginalisation and discrimination they faced through society’s belief that they have worked in the sex trade and presumed to be in England as a ‘Thai Bride’ suggesting monetary exchange, as well as their clear desire to distance themselves from the label.
The research focused on female Thai nationals married to a UK citizen living in England, to gain an understanding about their transitional experiences of their move to the country.
This included exploring how they met their husbands, process of marriage and immigration procedures, relationships they formed within their families, local community, employment opportunities, education, friendships and how the women maintain family links in Thailand, as well as identifying any barriers experienced by the women.
Key findings included:
- Building a relationship with their husband’s family was not always a positive experience.
- Achieving acceptance by the family was difficult due to how Thai women are labelled
- All the women experienced derogatory connotations in public, such as asking ‘how much they charged?’.
- Labelling prevented employment in their professional areas, and only being able to take on domestic roles regardless of educational and professional achievements
- Examples of sexual, physical, financial and economic abuse within relationships leaving women segregated and isolated.
“The women may be a minority and hard-to-reach within the UK, however, they deserve a voice to raise awareness of their experiences.” says Dr Angela Wilcock, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, who led the research.
“The idea for this study has been on my conscious for over a decade following a chance meeting with a Thai woman whom I met through previous research. It became apparent that Thai women, being a small dispersed ethnic group has received minimal focus about their experiences following migratory marriage and who are now living in the UK.
“The work was fascinating and at times very emotive due to the sensitivity of talking about personal life and the anxieties the women face.”
The study showed that while the women had been excited about starting a new life in England with their husband, they had left their families and most, due to covid, had not seen them physically for around three to five years. Most have left behind parents, siblings and their own children in an attempt to provide a stronger financial future for them.
All the families raised concerns about their daughter leaving Thailand, more so those who identify as middle-class and had a very good social and financial standing in their community.
Angela explained: “Thai culture bonds families very closely and they live within the same, or very near environment. Upon their move to England this change in family dynamics enhanced separation anxiety with all the women talking about isolation and loneliness. This was exacerbated due to the women being dispersed around the country with little or no physical contact with other people and importantly, other Thai nationals.”
A few of the women in the study had met their husbands online or through tourism in Thailand. Three of the women had met their husband through work or study both in UK and Thailand.
Dr Wilcock explained: “The findings interestingly contradict the label of the ‘Thai bride’ as a commodity. They all, apart from two, initially had long-distance relationships with one or two visits a year from their future husband. One never met him until she visited England.
“Love was only mentioned by one woman who met her husband through study in the UK; predominantly the marriage migration was for a better life for economic reasons and education for children. The women were clearly altruistic in their choices.”
The analysis identifies a clear distinction between class with the women clearly trying to distance themselves from the ‘Thai bride’ labelling and stereotypical links to the sex tourism industry within Thailand.
The women believed their acceptance was also linked to transition difficulties that includes cultural and language barriers that led to isolation and a dependence on their husband.
They explained that the marginalisation and discrimination they face is through the belief they have worked in the sex trade and presumed to be in England as a ‘Thai bride’ for monetary exchange.
All of the women highlighted vulnerability and noted that they had not been offered any official support upon migration. They all stated that they should be notified of their rights in the UK as they now recognised it is different to Thailand.
Dr Wilcock now plans further research and to build on the key findings in her study, and to submit her work paper to a relevant journal for publication.
The initial findings were presented at a CASS seminar and the work is to be presented at the British Society of Criminology Conference.
Dr Angela Wilcock has recently taken part in a BBC ‘Our World’ documentary which highlights her work, and investigates the death of a Thai woman, 20 years ago, whose body was found by walkers in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales.