Pon Pon, Japanese sex worker/activist, performing at the Red Light, Red Carpet party at the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Pon Pon is a member of SWASH (Sex Work and Sexual Health), a group founded in 1999 aiming to improve the health and safety of sex workers. SWASH consists of women working in the sex industry and their supporters. Click here for the English content on their website and follow them via Facebook or Twitter.
View full post at Matt Lemon Photography.
“A collaborative art project by sex workers, highlighting some of the positive things sex work has brought to our lives.”
The Sex Worker Quilt Project was a project by VIXEN, a group set up by current and former sex workers from all areas of the sex industry in Victoria, Australia. Their mission is to empower all sex workers through the provision of community and peer support, and promoting the cultural, legal, human, occupational and civil rights of all sex workers. VIXEN aims to overcome divisions between workers and is committed to promoting the wellbeing and rights of sex workers from all unique backgrounds. If you wish to show your support, you can join VIXEN’s Facebook group or alternatively, you can visit their MySpace page.
The quilts were hung up in the Rangmanch hall of Swabhumi, venue of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival. I apologise that due to lighting inside the venue, the quilts’ colours aren’t brought out as beautiful as they actually are. The collection is not complete but represents my personal favourites. The quilts were first displayed at the Festival of Sex Work in Melbourne, Australia. Please visit the Sex Worker Quilt Project on Facebook for further images and information.
“I wanted it to be happy, with lots of love, as that’s how i view my life as a sex worker Layers of hearts on hearts! The words pride, hope, inner strength and love, these are all things that sex work has brought me. I am not ashamed of who I am, in fact, I am grateful and thankful for it. I had a few little pics of cats and dog bones and a glass of wine to make it a bit fun and to also represent my family (I’m an animal kind of person). Oh, and the stars – because all of us are one! STARS!”
Comment by Holly, who created the quilt above.
Unforgettable MC Khartini Slamah,
Malaysian transgender sex worker (APNSW)
There are further quotes and photos to come from the final days of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, but for now, I would just like to share with you the final moments of this unprecedented conference.
I would like to take this occasion to express my sincere gratitude to those who have supported my participation in Kolkata, both financially and – equally important – in spirit. I also like to thank the participants at the SWFF for sharing their views and experiences with everyone, and congratulate the organisers from the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects for the great success of all their hard work.
Kolkata Platform for Action
Please click here for the Kolkata Platform for Action, published on July 26, 2012, at the conclusion of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, the official hub of the International AIDS Conference 2012, that became necessary as the US government continues to prevent sex workers from entering the United States, thus barring them from attending the conference in Washington D.C.
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.
It’s been a long day and so I will merely post a few impressions from the first day of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata. John Mathenge’s passionate message to the US government was particularly powerful. (see below) Starting from tomorrow, there should be internet at the conference, so stay tuned for live tweets via @photogroffee.
“As we stand under one umbrella, we are one family.”
– Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Indian transgender activist
“Speak for yourself! Speak for your country! Don’t let others speak on your behalf!”
– MC Khartini Slamah from Malaysia
“We are the people. We are the problem and we are the solution. No one can make decisions for us. They’ll never make decisions for us anymore. Sex work is work and sex workers’ rights are human rights. As Obama joined the government [he promised change]. Where is the change? Why are they still discriminating sex workers? They need to repeal the Anti-Prostitution Pledge for us to have freedom, freedom to work and right to health.”
– Message to the US government by John Mathenge, Kenyan sex worker activist
(Click here for the video)
“We like for the criminalisation (of sex work) to be lifted!”
– Irina Maslova, Silver Rose, Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN)
“Networks work because people trust each other. The Sex Worker Freedom Festival is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this many sex workers together. We need a mass movement and mass movements start from the ground up.”
– Andrew Hunter, NSWP President
“Because we are seen as victims by some feminist groups and by (prostitution) abolitionists, we need to stand up together and demand our rights!”
– Sex worker from Latin America
All photos by Matt Lemon Photography. To view these photos with their respective explanations, please view the photo album on Facebook. Please go to SWFF Impressions for further photos from the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival by the DMSC Media Team and others.
On the eve of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, I would like to share several messages. One is from KANG Hyun Joon, Director-General of the Han Teo National Union of Sex Workers in South Korea; the second is from a Korean sex worker who sadly cannot participate in the festival; and based on both of their statements I would also like to share a message of my own.
I am often asked what I wish to accomplish with my research project. Some people simply happen to know very little about the subject of sex workers’ rights, others might question my motives or morality, and yet again others might wonder why I am doing this research in South Korea. In the following, I will explain one of the factors that motivate me, and it’s the same that also renders my research considerably difficult at times.
Think globally (sometimes), act locally
I usually try to avoid making generalising statements about Koreans. Firstly, it is never wise to make general assumptions about a large group of people, and secondly, Korean society is in a state of constant and rapid changes, which I have been able to witness over the last ten years, four of which I have been living in South Korea.
If you visit Korea, it will be virtually impossible for you not to come across the words ‘international’ and ‘global’ on a regular basis. You will find them on banners and brochures of universities, research organisations, government agencies or private corporations who all use those words to give their dealings the semblance of being interconnected with like-minded partners in other parts of the world.
My experience tells me, however, that this global link is more often than not in name only, regardless of how genuine the intention to establish it may be. Korean activists, while very apt when organising protests within Korea, are no exception to this rule. 
Raising awareness about sex workers in Korea
Raising awareness about the situation of sex workers in South Korea is therefore one of the factors that continue to motivate me. I will not pretend that the lack of an international network doesn’t pose a significant challenge sometimes. But it makes me want to engage with Korean sex workers even more to encourage them – where necessary – to increase their network with sex work activists in other countries and to make their voices heard beyond the Asian realm. 
The evening before I boarded my flight to Kolkata, I met with KANG Hyun Joon, Director-General of the Han Teo National Union of Sex Workers, at a café in Seoul’s red-light district in Yeongdeungpo. Kang founded Han Teo in September 2002 and the organisation soon represented 20,000 brothel-based sex workers. Following the Special Law on Sex Trade of 2004 and increased government crackdowns on brothels, membership has since dropped to approx. 8,000, as an estimated 100,000 Korean sex workers opted to move abroad, the majority of them to Japan and the United States.
Message from Korean Sex Workers’ Union Han Teo to the SWFF
Towards the end of our talk, I asked KANG Hyun Joon if he would like me to pass on a message to the participants of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, seeing that on this occasion, Han Teo wouldn’t send a delegate to the conference. He replied the following.
“Since we don’t have frequent contact with people in the sex industry at the international level, I can’t say much about it, to be honest with you. However, if I were to talk about the situation in Korea, I’d like to say that I hope the day comes soon where sex workers in Korea work without shame and speak up with confidence in their own country.”
“그 쪽분들은 제가 접촉이 없기 때문에 뭐라고 말씀드리기 힘들지만 한국 사정으로 봤을 때 이 업에 종사한다고 해서 부끄러워하지 말고 떳떳하게 자기 국가에서 목소리 내면서 노동자로 인정받을 수 있는 날이 빨리 왔으면 좋겠습니다.”
Stop and listen!
While the immense stigma attached to sex work represent a problem for sex workers worldwide, the traditionally strict gender roles still alive in modern Korean society greatly exacerbate it. In a recent meeting with a sex worker in Seoul, we talked about the common rhetorical ploy by prostitution abolitionists to ask whether or not one would wish for one’s own children to become prostitutes. Her comment was that she would indeed try everything to prevent her child from working as a prostitute, but the reason she gave for that was not the nature of the work, but the stigmatisation that goes along with it, and that is causing her great distress and has her keep a distance from her parents to avoid having to lie to them about her work. 
Stigmatisation and discrimination have been the most commonly given answers I received when talking to Korean sex workers about difficulties they experience in their daily lives.
And so my message on the evening before the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival is directed to those readers unsure about the subject of sex workers’ rights.
To change laws and improve the rights of sex workers will take a lot of time and effort. But to open your mind, you only have to stop and listen, even if some of it might make you feel uncomfortable. I like to encourage you to stop believing the one-dimensional rhetoric of prostitution abolitionists and to listen instead to the experiences shared by those who know best, and those are sex workers themselves.
One of them is Maggie McNeill, a retired call girl, who writes about how she sees the world on her blog ‘The Honest Courtesan’.
“Those who wish to control others, to attack consensual actions with criminal laws, and to eliminate options which make them uncomfortable, believe that morality is set in stone; they think that right and wrong are as separate and distinct as black and white, and that they and only they have the direct proclamation from Godhead about which is which. Rational people, however, understand that morality is a process of weighing out various factors, comparing the relative right and wrong of each, in order to come to the most just, least harmful decision possible.” 
 The protests against the naval base on Jeju Island are a significant exception to the rule. The Korean government responded to the appearance of 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Angie Zelter (UK) and Benjamin Monnet (France) on the scene by arresting the two non-violent peace activists. While they eventually deported without any formal judicial procedure, three US citizens, members of US Veterans for Peace, were outright forbidden to land in Korea, discouraging further interference from the outside. Case in point.
 To avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that I do not wish to imply that Korean sex workers aren’t capable of making themselves heard, as this video greatly illustrates. In the recent past, Korean sex workers have more frequently participated in meetings and conferences outside Korea. As KANG Hyun Joon’s quote illustrates, however, contacts to sex work activists are still very limited, especially when it comes to links outside East Asia.
 The interviewee consented to having her views published. The photo was taken from a twitter account of a Korean sex worker.
 A Different View by The Honest Courtesan
Collection of photos from the DMSC Media Team. Reposted with kind permission. Please visit this page again for further updates throughout the festival. To view these photos with their respective explanations, please view the photo album on Facebook. These photos are also published India Civil Society website. Further updates throughout the festival.
The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) is a collectivisation of 65,000 sex workers, which functions as an exclusive forum of female, male and transgender sex workers in West Bengal, India.