Thailand: Aiming For Parity

Agnes Dherbeys / VII Mentor for TIME

Fighting back
The Iron Ladies training in a Buddhist temple's grounds

Jiranan Phedsri confesses that she has "one true friend." The 51-year-old Thai housewife strokes the object of her affection, caressing its cool curves. The recipient of the devout Buddhist's ardor? A .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol Jiranan carries wherever she goes in Thailand's troubled deep south, where a Muslim insurgency has resulted in roughly 4,000 deaths since it gained momentum in 2004. The handgun, though, isn't Jiranan's only trusted companion. As a volunteer in the Iron Ladies, an all-female civilian militia designed to protect Buddhists from Islamic extremists, she received military training on how to wield rifles and machine...

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