Government efforts to clean up the streets of Taipei over the last decade have, as even a fleeting familiarity with the darker corners of the city shows, done little more than driven the capital's sex industry underground. In many cases, it has simply made life harder for some of society's most vulnerable members.
Activism to improve the condition of workers within the largely criminalized sex industry has continued in the face of government inaction, and activities such as the Sex Workers Film Festival (春光疊影:妓女聯合國紀錄片影展) have done much to bring this industry out of the shadows.
The festival has been organized by the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (日日春關懷互助協會, COSWAS), which has invited representatives of sex worker organizations from the US, India, Guatemala, South Korea and Germany to take part in seminars related to the films being presented, many of which have won awards at other international film festivals.
Among the invited guests will be Carol Leigh, the San Francisco-based activist who is widely credited with introducing the term "sex worker" into the English language. Also participating will be Makiro Passion, a member of the LA Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP) and representatives from DMSC, a grassroots organization working for prostitute's rights in India.
These visitors will be taking part in the Starlight Night (星火之夜) charity event to be held at the Chengde District Community Center (成德區民活動中心), located at 3F, 100 Tongde Rd, Taipei City (台北市南港區同德路100號3樓) at 6:20pm on Dec. 15. There will be a nakasi (那卡西) performance - a type of music associated with Taipei's red-light district - by Taipei's Nakasi Workers Band and a strip show by Makiro Passion. Admission is free; donations are accepted.
The festival's opening film, which screens at 7pm tonight, is the premiere of a documentary about the life of Kuan Hsiu-chin (官秀琴), once a well-known figure in Taipei's red-light district and outspoken activist for the rights of sex workers. She became famous as one of the first sex workers to lift the veil of shame and anonymity associated with selling sex and seek recognition as an individual.
Other films dealing with the local sex industry include Street Survivor (嘜相害), a gritty docu-drama about life on the mean streets, Old Chicks: Bailan and Her Girls (白蘭和她們), which examines the fate of a number of sex workers after the criminalization of prostitution in Taiwan and To See or Not to See (假裝看不見), which allowed sex workers to tell their own stories of working in an environment which makes them criminals.
Seminars with academics, COSWAS volunteer workers and international guests will accompany all screenings.
Tonight's screening of the documentary about Kuan, Taiwan's First Sex Worker Activist (台灣妓運第一人:官秀琴紀念影片), will take place at Guisui Park (歸綏公園) on the corner of Guisui and Chongqing South roads. All other screenings will be held at the Taipei NGO Center (台北市NGO會館) located at 8 Qingdao E Rd, Taipei City (台北市青島東路8號). Screenings are free. A full list of film times can be found at the COSWAS Web site at coswas.org/archives/01coswas/4culturalact/post_79.html.