Sex worker activists win every victory at great personal risk and often without the financial support that activists working on other human rights issues can expect. We invite you to read about and listen to stories of great courage and determination from sex workers around the world.
‘There is always something happening, someone to talk with, something to think about. My day doesn't feel complete if I don't go to EMPOWER, even if I just call in for ten minutes. EMPOWER is my second home, my school, my kitchen, my place'.
— Jan, EMPOWER Chiang Mai
EMPOWER Chiang Mai is the main sex worker movement and community in the northern provinces of Thailand. It is run by sex workers for sex workers and has had more than 10,000 members over the past 18 years. EMPOWER Chiang Mai is part of the national EMPOWER Foundation, one of the oldest and strongest sex worker organisations in the world.
One of EMPOWER Chiang Mai's main activities is to support sex worker activists, policy analysts, and community leaders to effectively advocate for their rights. Currently, the political climate in Thailand is extremely unstable, making it difficult for sex workers to push forward with the labour law and policy reforms needed.
Despite the challenges, EMPOWER is strengthening its position as the national voice for this important sector of the Thai economy. On 15 September 2010, the Thai Prime Minister's Office and the Committee for National Reconciliation asked to meet with EMPOWER leaders, including ten activists from Chiang Mai, to hear sex workers' recommendations for increasing equality in Thai society.
This past year, the group developed an influential set of occupational health and safety guidelines for the entertainment industry. Recently, EMPOWER Chiang Mai activists visited the Fuern Karaoke Bar. Women working there proudly pointed to a new "no smoking "sticker on the wall and a hand-painted "fire exit" sign hanging on a newly cut doorway. EMPOWER's safe work poster was framed and hung behind the counter. Now workers in neighbouring bars are thinking of trying to make some changes too.
In 2011, EMPOWER Chiang Mai plans to analyse and document the impact of anti-trafficking law and other legislation on the human rights of sex workers. They will use this report as evidence to influence positive policy and legal change.