Sex Work and Human Rights

In your neighbourhood

“If I can feel like a part of Korean society, how can it be that there are Koreans who don’t feel like they are part of society?”

Namsangol Vol. 3 Cover“There are people who live in your neighbourhoods who don’t have the same rights as you. They are marginalised by laws and stigmatised by society, and the bias of the Korean media and the public constantly adds to their discrimination. They have the courage to demonstrate for their rights, but your government, when it reviewed the [Anti-Sex-Trade] law, decided to make matters even worse for them, rather than learning from countries like New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands or Germany, where governments understood that criminalising sex work, contrary to what anti-prostitution activists will tell you, harms sex workers and their families and does not reduce human trafficking. Even the UN has finally understood this and published a report this September that calls for the decriminalisation of sex work.”

Excerpt from ‘All Sorrows Are Less With Bread’, Namsangol magazine Vol. 3

About the article

At the end of 2012, a group of young Seoulites published the third issue of Namsangol, a magazine about Haebangchon, a multicultural neighbourhood in the heart of Seoul. They had contacted me earlier last year regarding my photo series about a controversial graffiti in Haebangchon. In October, they contacted me again and asked if I wanted to write an article for them. The result was an autobiographical piece, in line with their profiles of people living in Haebangchon, which they published in both English and Korean. I took the opportunity to introduce their readers to the problems faced by sex workers in South Korea.

Click here to download the article as a PDF (23 MB)

About Namsangol

Haebangchon - Matt Lemon PhotographyThe members of the Namsangol team all live in Haebangchon, which is located in the southern valley of Namsan, a 262m peak in the heart of Seoul. Hence the name of the magazine: Namsangol means ‘South Mountain Valley’.

The group started working on the first issue in the spring of 2012. While the number of people who work on each issue fluctuates somewhere between 7 and 15, Younguk Bae, as publisher, and Haeji Jeong, as editor in chief, are permanent members since the beginning.

According to Haeji, the magazine has no single, obvious mission. The content of each issue depends on who is contributing to it at the time. Some use the magazine to strike up relationships with other locals in HBC; others enjoy the magazine as an interesting project in their off time, though it doesn’t seem that they lead boring lives to begin with.

The Namsangol writers are somewhere between their early 20s and mid-30s and come from all walks of life. Some work for an architecture firm, one teaches yoga, another one is a playwright, one creates children’s books, and some are studying. The one element they all have in common is that they love their multicultural neighbourhood, which is home to a mix of Korean and foreign residents from faraway places, such as the Philippines, Nigeria, Germany or the United States.

To some, publishing three issues over the course of ten months might seem small potatoes, but bear in mind that they accomplished it next to their already busy schedules, paid only with the pleasure they all take from working together.

Up until now, Namsangol is sponsored by HAEAHN Architecture and The Seoul Institute, an independent research organisation established and supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. For the future, the team is exploring other options to finance the magazine. Namsangol is available free of charge in local shops in Haebangchon.

Click here to download the entire third issue of Namsangol as PDF (7 MB).

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