One of the largest delegations visiting the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata is a group from the EMPOWER Foundation in Thailand. Over the course of the first days, their participation is among the most visible and inspiring. On Sunday evening, two of their members gave a performance at the ‘Red Light, Red Carpet’ party; on Monday, Empower’s Malee Vandresitan gave a presentation about the freedom of movement and to migrate; and in the Global Village, delegates and visitors can view Empower’s ‘Mida Tapestry’ that consists of embroidered panels depicting how women experience raid and rescue missions. Each panel is hand embroidered by migrant sex workers. It is an art work and a document that best speaks to and from the migrant sex worker community.
Mida Tapestry – An Art Work by Migrant Sex Workers
EMPOWER stands for “Education Means Protection Of Women Engaged in Recreation”. Empower, also known as Centre for Sex Workers’ Protection or Moolniti Songserm Okard Pooying (Thai: มูลนิธิส่งเสริมโอกาสผู้หญิง), is a Thai non-profit organisation that supports sex workers by offering free classes in language, health, law and pre-college education as well as individual counselling. The organisation also lobbies the government to extend regular labour protections to sex workers and to legalise prostitution.
EMPOWER was founded in 1985 by Chantawipa Apisuk who still serves as the organisation’s director, running the head office in Nonthaburi Province. The organisation maintains centers in Patpong (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach, Phuket. Unlike most Thai organisations operating in this field, EMPOWER takes a neutral stance towards sex work and does not pressure people to leave the trade. Partly because of this, EMPOWER receives little financial support from the Thai government; the bulk of the donations come from abroad.
Hit & Run 2012 Report by Empower
In 2012, EMPOWER published a report, “Hit and Run: The impact of anti-trafficking policy and practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand,” in which regional sex workers were surveyed over the course of 12 months in order to asses the state of the profession.
Please click here to download Empower’s 2012 report “Sex Worker’s Research on Anti trafficking in Thailand”.
“More women abused by anti-traffickers than exploited by traffickers”
The data collected prompted EMPOWER director Chantawipa Apisuk to say that “We have now reached a point in history where there are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers.”
Last Rescue in Siam – First ever film by sex workers in Thailand
To accompany the report, EMPOWER also released a short film called “Last Rescue in Siam” (สาวน้อยผจญภัย), the first film ever made by sex workers in Thailand. It is a short black and white film inspired by the tradition of old silent films. The film premiered on the 21st of February, 2012, at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.
Please click here to visit Empower’s website.
Information above taken from EMPOWER’s website, report and Wikipedia page.
All Photos by Matt Lemon Photography.