Virada Somswasdi, one of our founding members, part of the Steering Committee that set up the APWLD Secretariat and former APWLD Thai Association President, passed away on 29th March 2020 late at night. She had a great feminist vision that shaped our work as APWLD, and also enabled APWLD Secretariat to find home in Chiang Mai, Thailand more than 20 years ago.  We mourn this great loss to feminist and women’s movements, but resolve to carry the torch to continue an APWLD journey Virada started for a brave and just feminist future.

Virada Somswasdi at first Asia Pacific Feminist Forum in 2011


About Virada

Virada Somswasdi was a dedicated feminist academic, lawyer, and activist from Thailand who was involved in the women’s movement for over four decades. After completing her LL.B. degree from Chulalongkorn University and an LL.M. from Cornell University, USA she started teaching law at Chiang Mai University in 1973 at the time when the student movement for democracy was strong in Thailand. While working as an associate professor of law, she established the Women’s Studies Centre at Chiang Mai University in 1986. Her teaching subjects included Family Law, Feminist Jurisprudence; Law and Society; Women’s Movement; Sex Crimes and Women’s Human Rights. Virada was a founding member of APWLD since it was established in 1986 and played an instrumental role in the transfer of APWLD Secretariat to Chiang Mai in 1997.

Virada Somswasdi, second from right, at Tagaytay Philippines in 1986 with other APWLD founding members

Virada served as APWLD’s interim Regional Coordinator from 1997 to 1999. After stepping down from her position as the Regional Coordinator, she served in various governance bodies of APWLD until 2015. Virada worked relentlessly to raise the status of women in Thailand. She served as the president of the Foundation for Women, Law and Rural Development and sat on the board of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia Pacific and Worldwide Association of Women’s Studies. She wrote and edited many books and articles in the areas of trafficking in women, sexual exploitation of women, pornography, gender and aids, family law, domestic violence, feminist jurisprudence, women’s human rights and women´s movements. She was a recipient of the ‘Woman of Courage’ award by the US Department of State, and various other prestigious national awards in recognition of her contribution in gender equality work including ‘Woman of the Year’ by the prime minister’s office in 2002.

APWLD Members and Partners Pay Tribute


Khushi Kabir, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

It was so sad to hear the news of Virada’s death.  It almost feels like a major part, history and life of APWLD has gone.  We know she was very unwell, but just being in Chiang Mai was enough for us to feel she was there.

Her role to keep APWLD going, her commitment will be missed sorely.  I remember being privileged to have visited her lovely house during my term as ReC member.  I will always remember her smile, her humour and above all her total commitment to all that APWLD stands for today, in fact her role towards making APWLD what it is in not to be forgotten.

I condole with all my sisters and her friends and family the passing away of someone who was bigger than life.

Sanaiyya Ansari, ReC and P&M member (2011-2016), FLTP trainer, Bangaldeshi

I just came to know that you left us on 29th March 2020.

So sad for us and for all the APWLD members and movements. I learnt so much from you, specially how to show respect for the members decision and appreciate the innovations and creations and in you, I always found, the love for APWLD and your last breath to uplift the name and image of APWLD.

When I was selected both for REC and P&M in 2011, I got so much appreciation and your efforts touched me very much. Still remember, we, the P&M, visited you and you were recovered from the illness and you have greeted us in your home so gladly. I still remember you said, ‘’love to swim but doctors are not allowing’’. We had a great laugh and said yes one day you will.

You came back, started work, that was another inspiration.

Though, it’s true , you left this world but your thoughts, beliefs, efforts, enthusiasm and strength always inspire me and you will be remembered always.

Sultana Kamal, Bangladesh

I am extremely saddened by the news. My heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Virada. She definitely has been the key actor in founding as well as moving the work forward. We learnt so much from Virada’s inputs during the meetings we attended together. She will remain a source of inspiration for all who came in touch with her, be ad her students or colleagues in any form.

With deepest respect for Virada.

Nazma Akhter on behalf of Awaj Foundation, Bangladesh

So sorry to hear the news as the world and we, activists, have lost a great asset.

Eni Lestari, Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers, Hong Kong 

My deepest condolence for the family of Virada and express my sincere gratitude to her contribution and dedication to women’s movement in APWLD and in the world. She will always be remembered.

Fatima Burnad, Society for Rural Education and Development, India

Very sorry to hear that our friend Virada passed away. 

Her contribution to APWLD will not be forgotten. As a grassroots woman I have admired her commitment towards working with women in her country. She is a strong leader, a Feminist who helped me to gain more knowledge on the global situation. She is one of the Women in Asia Pacific Region, a strong leader whom I will always remember. My heart felt condolences to her family members.

Govind Kelkar, India

Recalling Virada and I spend  several days in the field in Chiang Mai area and also shared each others thought and lives. During my last visit to her tried to remind her about this, but her response was in a smile. In a general situation of depressed condition about miserable conditions of migrant workers around Delhi and in other regions of India, one more sad news.

Sharanya Nayak, RITES Forum, India

Our deep condolences.

AIWC, India

Deepest condolences from sisters of AIWC.

S K Priya, India

It is with great regret and deep sorrow that I note the passing of Virada. I had the occasion to interact with her several times over the years and always came away from each one, enriched. I had several opportunities, over the years, to observe her deep commitment to women’s rights and APWLD. She will be greatly missed.

Titi Soentoro, Aksi! for gender, social and ecological justice, Indonesia

My heartfelt condolence to Virada’s family on her passing away.

Dato’ Noor Farida Ariffin, Malaysia

It was with shock and grief that I learned of my good friend and APWLD colleague Virada Somswasdi’s passing.

Virada and I have been friends since she and I and a group of other women activists from Asian countries founded APWLD following a meeting in Tagaytay, Philippines way back in 1985. 

Following its establishment, it was decided to locate the APWLD secretariat  at the APDC building in Kuala Lumpur. After the tenth year it was decided to move the Secretariat to Chiang Mai, Thailand. We decided on Chiang Mai because of Virada who was then the head of the Women’s Studies department of Chiang Mai university.  Virada had undertaken to give the secretariat the full support of her department. She ensured the smooth running of the secretariat and personally dealt with all the bureaucratic requirements.

I last saw her a couple of years ago when I was in Chiang Mai for an APWLD Council meeting. She was then recovering from a stroke. 

Virada has been a good friend and comrade in arms. 

She was an invaluable member of APWLD and will be greatly missed. 

Rest in peace my dear friend.

Karen Lai on behalf of WCC, Penang, Malaysia

The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang would like to extend our deepest condolences to Khun Virada’s family and also to APWLD. We express our gratitude and honour her memory by recognising that her legacy lives on in the great work of the organisation and its network of members across the region. 

Dorathy on behalf of EMPOWER, Malaysia

EMPOWER Malaysia sends our deepest condolences on the passing of Virada Somswasdi, who was a well respected activist. May her soul rest in peace.

Lim Kah Cheng, Penang, Malaysia

I am saddened by the news of the passing of Prof Virada. My heartfelt condolences to her family. It had been many years since I last met her but I can remember her clearly as someone whom I had enjoyed working with in the early tumultuous days of APWLD. I remember her as someone who was hardworking and upright in her endeavours. Without her strong support and contributions over the years, APWLD would not have been what it is today. May she Rest In Peace.

Zainah Anwar, Musawah, Malaysia

 This is so sad. I am so sorry to hear of this loss of a strong n brave and pioneering  feminist. 

My prayers are with the family. But I guess she is in better place. May she rest in peace.

Khongorzul Amarsanaa, Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence, Mongolia

Our deepest condolences to Khun Virada’s family. She was a prominent role model for me and for many Asian feminists.

Shanta Laxmi Shrestha, Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC), Nepal

Extremely grieved by the email of our comrade and leader Ms. Virada Somswasdi’s death in this Covid- 19 Pandemic situation. I, on behalf of Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC) Family and in person would like to express deep condolence and would like to pay homage. “May her soul rest in peace. May the Mother Earth be with her family and friends to cope with the loss of her!”

Jyotsna Maskay, WOREC, Nepal

A terrible loss to APWLD, the feminist movement, and the university. I have fond memories of her – from hiring me as an employee to engaging in various meetings. She is a better place with her ajarn, and I pray for her soul, and sending courage to the bereaved family.

Yasso Kanti Bhattachan, National Indigenous Women Forum, Nepal

I am very sorry to hear the news. Our heartfelt condolence to her family. members. Her contribution to APWLD will be always remembered.

Frances Q. Quimpo on behalf of CEC, Philippines

Deepest condolences to the family, friends, staff and fellow members of APWLD.  Virada Somswasdi has been a role model and champion of women’s rights defenders. We have taken much inspiration from her leadership of APWLD. It is with sadness that we receive this news but we will continue to carry forward her efforts to uplift the lives of grassroots women in the region.

Rest in peace, our dear mentor and friend.

Daisy Arago, CTUHR, Philippines

It was with deep sadness that we learned the passing of one the pillars of APWLD, especially in its most difficult phase of the organisation. I met her briefly in several APWLD activities, when  I was still grappling and still is to understand many things about the feminist movement and the role it plays and want to play in our society. Thank you for your wisdom.

We shall celebrate your life, and remember your legacy by strengthening our resolve further to make a difference. Rest in power!

Vernie Yocogan-Diano, Philippines

Ajarn Virada Somswasdi

My world stopped

When I learned about your demise

The  pain is hitting every single cell

Of  souls you have touched

A solid woman activist, feminist you are

Refused to just  go with the water’s flow

Not the woman who just follow the blow of the wind

A  firm voice you always had been

Uncompromising for the right

Stood for the just and bright

When you got tired

You took your brush

And painted images of hopes

A diversion of difficult moments

In figuring out ways ahead

Building unities from diversities

Mending differences

Fostering solidarity

Among movements of different origins

Whom you painted with a vision of a just society

Committed to smash the  systemic causes of patriarchy

Turning women to smile each day

Now rest in eternity

Your memories

Will thrive  in perpetuity

Within APWLD and the wider regional community.

Judy Taguiwalo, Philippines

Virada Somswasdi passed away last March 29. She has been bedridden the past several years due to a series of stroke. Still the news of her death grieved us who have known her as a moving force in the women’s movement in Thailand and in the Asia-Pacific region.

I met Virada sometime in 1997 when the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) had just transferred to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Virada was instrumental in facilitating that move through her position as Director of the Women’s Studies Centre of Chiang Mai University and by putting together initially Thai support staff including the reliable Sachee and Parichat.

I was invited to be part of a workshop on rural women and globalisation sponsored by the Task Force on Rural and Indigenous Women (RIW). It was held at the YMCA-Chiang Mai where APWLD had its office. This was 1997 or 1998 and the link between globalisation through international agreements and conditionalities imposed by multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was a relatively new discourse within APWLD. But globalisation and its impact on the lives of rural women were clearly articulated by the testimonials of rural women from several Asian countries. Virada was in the midst of these discussions and arranged a field trip to a Thai rural community where we had a conversation with the farmers and how difficult life was for those who have little or no land. That field trip would also be my first meeting with Adjan Chai, Virada’s beloved husband, who like her was a professor in Chiang Mai University and who like her got his degree from Cornell University. Virada had a law degree while Adjan Chai had a degree in Anthropology.

So this story of my first interaction with Virada contains key elements of who she was: a Thai lawyer and women’ studies professor; a key figure in the reestablishment of APWLD in Thailand; beloved of Adjan Chai and their close collaboration in building solidarity; the conscious connection between women’s situation and global forces and the need for sisterhood to address women’s marginalisation and subordination.

I would be working with Virada on an almost continuous basis from 2000 as she was the APWLD Founding Member representative in the governance bodies of APWLD, the Regional Council and the Programme and Management Committee. I was part of those bodies or in APWLD task forces or meetings.

She helped APWLD hurdle through a number of challenges whether these are working visas for the members of the Secretariat; funding constraints or problematic staff.  She encouraged and supported the continuous development of the thrust and structure of APWLD: from the adoption of the Globalisation, Militarism and Fundamentalism framework to the transformation of the task forces into organizing committees. She maximised the presence of many Asia Pacific feminists and activists by asking some of us to lecture at the Women’s Studies Centre of Chiang Mai University.  She was a painter and transformed her watercolour paintings into greeting cards which she auctioned to help raise funds for APWLD.

Adjan Chai and Virada opened their lovely home to us for dinner or for coffee and conversations. I would learn how Adjan Chai and Virada met at Cornell University and how they fell in love and that Adjan Chai could bake a really delicious apple pie.

Virada played tennis and swam regularly. Her stroke in late 2015 caught us by surprise but she recovered. She went back to attending meetings of the Commission on Status of Women of Thailand and in helping APWLD. However in 2017 she would have another stroke which made her bedridden. I visited her in September 2017 when she was barely conscious of her surrounding and then on March 31, 2018. She was still bedridden but she was conscious and could remember us, Jane former APWLD Regional Coordinator and Khun Ja, former Finance Officer. Virada even joined us in a group singing. That would be the last time I visited her.

I have just gone through my email box and found this last message from Virada dated Jan 20, 2016 which was after her first stroke:

“My dears JM Taguiwalo and daughter and Sanaiyya,

It takes me too long to write, sorry about it.

Thank you very much giving me nice things.

Moth chocolates, beautiful necklace from the Philippines and a blanket from Sri Lanka.

I still think about you in good terms.

Take care and love”

Dear, dear Virada, we “still think about you in good terms” and with much grief but also with much love. Thank you for the friendship. Thank you for the sisterhood. Thank you for the solidarity. Take care. I hope you and Adjan Chai had a happy reunion. We will miss the two of you.

Azra Talat Sayeed, ROOTS for Equity, Pakistan

I am so sad! I will always cherish my memories with Virada. When I joined APWLD she guided me and was a very loving caring mentor who treated me with respect and affection. May she rest in peace! But she will live in our hearts and minds for her many contributions to the women’s movement.

My deepest regards to her family.

Roshni Sindh, Pakistan

We have received today the news of Virada’s demise; it is really a big loss. Accept our deepest and heartfelt condolences. 

A person that departs from this earth never truly leaves, for they are still alive in our hearts and minds, through us, they live on. Surely she will not be forgotten and she will live in our hearts as a humanitarian character who devoted her life for feminist cause. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

Heisoo Shin, South Korea

I am deeply saddened to hear the news of Virada, my good friend of 30 years. She and I shared the many moments at APWLD, both of joyous and difficult times, from the days when the office was in Kuala Lumpur. Without Virada, the current office in Chiang Mai would have not been possible.

At APWLD, I worked with Virada at the Steering Committee for some time and attended CSW with her many times during the 1990s when the CSW was filled with energy, hope and commitments with activist participants from all regions. In the mid-1990s, APWLD was the first organization which started to have a regular yearly regional consultation with the newly established Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, which continued for 15 years. Of course Virada was at the center of all this decision of APWLD.

My organization at that time, Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, was able to get accreditation by APWLD to attend the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. I discussed with Virada that APWLD needs to go not only to New York to attend CSW but also to Geneva to attend the Commission on Human Rights since Geneva is the center for human rights, which should include women’s human rights. I am happy that my suggestion was accepted by APWLD, and now APWLD is reaching out not only the SR on VAW but also all the other special procedure mandate holders in our activities.

I laughed a lot with Virada, who was full of humour and wisdom. She also had an excellent sense of art and beauty. When we had a conference in Bali, we went out shopping after the meeting, and on Virada’s advice I chose a muffler, which everybody thought was a good one. At Bangkok UN Conference Center, there was a bazaar and at Virada’s advice, I bought a Thai silk blouse, which I am still wearing. 

She was a lovely feminist who founded APWLD but also the Women’s Studies Center at Chiang Mai University. I believe her activism will be continued by us all at APWLD in our activism to continue Virada’s vision and commitment. May her rest at peace.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Sri Lanka

I want to echo Heisoo’s sentiments. I was also a founder member and it was Virada who helped institutionalize APWLD. She was a real team player and a wonderful human being. Those initial years of working together and laughing together will never be forgotten. May her spirit guide us.

Gayani Gomes on behalf of Women’s Centre, Sri Lanka

Please accept our deepest condolences.  May her soul rest in peace.

Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk, Sustainable Development Foundation, Thailand

I was extremely  sad to learn about Virada passing away. My deep condolences to her family. It is such sudden unexpected news.

All of us have been  well valued on how she has contributed to an existing and a strength of APWLD movement. Losing her as a person but she will always be in our memory.

So sad.

Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Burma/Thailand

We, the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), would like to express our great sadness to learn about the passing away of Assoc. Prof. Virada Somswasdi, the founder of the Women’s Studies Center, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, and a founding member of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

She was very supportive and helpful to our organization, SWAN. We deeply appreciate her solidarity and concerns for the people of Burma, and her commitments to the women in Thailand and around the world.

We extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues. We wish her soul to rest in peace. Her memories will live with us forever.

Le Thi Quy  Prof., Ph.D, Director of the Institute for Gender and Development ( INGAD )

Head of Department on Social Work, Thang Long University, Thailand

I am very sad to know that Prof., Dr. Virada Somswasdi passed away. She was not only one of the founders of APWLD and so great feminist in the Thailand and Asia. For Vietnam, she was good friend and colleague. We learnt a lot from her. On behalf of our organisation and personal, I would like to shared great distressed with her family and APWLD.

Tran Thi Thanh Toan, Centre for Sustainable Rural Development, Vietnam

I am sorry to hear that Virada has passed away. My deepest condolences to her family.

May she rest in peace.

‘Ofa Guttenbiel Likiliki, Tonga Women’s Crisis Centre, Tonga

Our deepest condolences to Virada’s family. Her tireless efforts remain in our APWLD hearts and minds. May her spirit fly high and her legacy LIVE ON forever!

Mary Jane N. Real, former Regional Coordinator, APWLD
I first met Virada when she interviewed me for the post of Programme Officer of APWLD way back in 1999.  In a sense, her recommendation to hire me opened whole new chapters in my life as I relocated to Chiangmai, and stayed there for close to 10 years.  I eventually ended up as Regional Coordinator of APWLD in 2000, a turning point in my professional life, considering that I have never run any organisation before at a local or national level, much less a regional network of formidable women lawyers and activists.
As Regional Coordinator, I remember being at loggerheads with Virada on many organisational concerns.  I can no longer remember much of what we disagreed upon, perhaps it is also best not to recall them anymore.  What is important to note is that in spite of all the disagreements, we were still able to relate with each other personally.  Slowly we developed a relationship outside work as she generously shared with us her home, and invited us to feast on excellent Thai meals that her partner, Ajarn Salachai, cooked for us.  She took us to the best restaurants for Thai cuisine, and places to shop for Thai silver, silk, pottery and other artisan wares.  So rather than hold any grudge, I yielded to enjoy her company, and appreciated her multi-faceted personality.
Virada is well known in many circles as a professor, activist, leader and many other important assignations, but what I love most about her was that she was an artist.  I admired her sense of aesthetics:  not loud, but delicate and subtle; gentle, almost an opposite of her determined presence;  authentic, rooted in a keen appreciation of beauty in all its forms. She painted watercolors, and I became an ardent admirer.  I bought bunches of greeting cards she was selling to fundraise for FORWARD, another new organisation she launched then;  we did an APWLD calendar planner adorned with her watercolors and Ajarn Salachai’s who also shared her artistic hobby; and when I visited their home, I would find myself gazing at the walls of framed paintings of her watercolors, mostly beautiful expressions of flora.  And when I visited her in 2016 with Judy Taguiwalo and Khun Ja Shinawatra, this was the last photo I took of one she painted before she became terminally ill.
Virada’s impression in my life is akin to her watercolors beholding the fleeting glory of flowers in bloom. We were both wide-eyed at beauty.  Like her watercolor brushstrokes blurring the edges, our tensions at work were softened by strokes of our shared admiration of beauty.
A photo taken by Mary Jane N. Real of a water colour painting by Virada

Misun Woo, Regional Coordinator, APWLD Secretariat

Dear Virada,

I still remember the very first moment I met you in 2007 at a P&M meeting. “You will learn APWLD feminism and solidarity”, was the first comment you gave me as I expressed my critical view on feminism (!). Since then, you became my mentor, programme member, board member and friend.

I cherish so many memories with you – our work, discussions, debates, simple joys like meals together and your stories. One day you brought a bag of shoes and bags for my mum whom you met and realised you both were born in the same year, you let Hannah swim in your swimming pool when she was just over one year old, and your last email to me with your love. You fiercely fought to protect women’s studies centre at Chiang Mai University and feminist activism in Thailand, and gave your life for APWLD to grow strong for us, the next waves. Looking back on the decisions you made for APWLD, it was with sharp insights and feminist visions. I will miss you deeply and forever grateful for the time I spent with you at APWLD. Rest in power, dearest Virada.