Tue, Dec 11, 2007 - Page 8 News List

No sex workers' rights, no nation

By Kuo Li-hsin 郭力昕

The sex workers' rights movement promoted by the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS) is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It has relentlessly fought for the rights and social status of sex workers, as well as the legalization of their profession.

This previously taboo culture and debate has become an issue that many -- including sex workers, their customers and aloof and perhaps cowardly middle-class individuals such as myself -- dare only gradually to confront, discuss and even rally for.

Like the Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA) and the students' movement to save Lo Sheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium, COSWAS is moving Taiwanese society forward.

But are the mainstream values of Taiwanese society and the relevant government departments also making progress? Apparently not. The 160,000 foreign caregivers in Taiwan are still regarded as second-class citizens by this country, or as machines that can be exploited to work without rest. They have no right to leave bad employers and are still hoping for a law that will protect their basic right to time off and holidays.

The government follows the same standard in setting a date for the demolition of Lo Sheng by completely ignoring both the wishes of patients in the leprosarium and the call for the preservation of a historical site.

When the Human Rights Committee recently debated the abolition of Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which stipulates that prostitutes can be punished but not their customers, the Ministry of the Interior and the Cabinet seemed not to have even heard the more progressive ideas of some committee members who argued for the legalization of the sex trade.

Instead, the government simply claimed that there was no "social consensus" for such changes and used the excuse as a pretext to preserve a social order that tramples on the rights of sex workers.

Just what is the "social consensus" in Taiwan on the issue of prostitution? Who defines what this consensus is? Elite middle-class politicians and "public opinion" can only think of eradicating all things "pornographic," meaning pushing the "obscene" sex trade and sex workers away from view.

This kind of hypocritical, ostrich-like attitude to sex work and corresponding government policies cannot possibly solve the problem, but only pushes the sex trade underground, laying the blame on sex workers, causing them to flee into hiding and confining them to an unsafe work environment.

This kind of "policy" continues to stigmatize sex, so that sex workers are discriminated against and exploited. Furthermore, with an extremely hypocritical and distorted attitude toward sex, Taiwanese society continues to create a situation where large profits are made both legally and illegally by pushing the sex trade underground. Is this really Taiwan's "social consensus"?

COSWAS marked its anniversary with the Sex Workers Film Festival, which featured films about sex worker activism and the circumstances sex workers face around the world.

The festival had a lot of educational value and was truly moving. It featured documentaries about a variety of subjects, including Columbian women going to Germany to work in the sex industry in order to support their families and Guatemalan sex workers who organized a soccer team in an effort to confront the discrimination and the violence they face in their work, and to prove the value of their existence in training and matches.

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