Women's lib . . . in a Thai village

Women's liberation reached a milestone recently in the coastal village of Bang Nokkwaek, southwest of Bangkok, with the election of Thailand's first woman village headman.

Somsong Suraphan, a middle-aged widow, overcame protests that a woman was neither strong enough nor tough enough to carry out a headman's duties, which include chasing bandits and shooting marauding wild animals.

After beating her opponent, a village shopkeeper, Mrs. Somsong said she was not daunted by her duties.

''A woman can be clever and tough,'' she said. ''There's Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister. She's only a little lady but she could take back the Falkland Islands.''

A new law that came into force last month permits Thai women to be village headmen. Besides maintaining law and order, a headman's responsibilities include settling disputes between villagers, speaking for the village in dealings with the government bureaucracy, maintaining village utilities and services, and keeping birth and death records.

Mrs. Somsong hopes to rise higher in the government hierarchy by becoming headman of a tambon, a commune into which Thai villages are organized.

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