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Empower Foundation, Thailand
May 31st 2010
Political theory seems a long way away from our daily lives as working women supporting our families. We respect human rights and support equality in society. We do not agree with violence. In April 2010, protestors and soldiers came into our streets, our community and our workplaces.

Violence, especially on April 10th and 22nd forced many of our businesses to close and the situation worsened over the following weeks with the military crackdown of May 19th. Many of our sisters in Patpong lost their jobs and income. They are still sometimes scared, sometimes stressed…and they are still struggling to survive the crisis, under curfews and ongoing Emergency Decree.

Twenty three other provinces were affected by violence and the curfew, resulting in lost wages and increased stress and fear. In some areas, corrupt local law enforcement used the curfew and Emergency Decree to harass and extort money from sex workers. Even in places not directly affected, like Phuket and Krabi, the number of customers plummeted. In addition, many sex workers arrived from affected areas, increasing the worker to customer ratio even more.

“Women have come from Bangkok, Pattaya, everywhere to try and make money. It’s the beginning of low season here and it’s even lower than usual. Many of us are lucky if we get commission from just one drink all night! But our bills arrive just as usual” Sunny, Empower Phuket

Empower Patpong, Bangkok
Despite the razor wire and soldiers, Empower Patpong stayed open as long as it was safe to do so. Finally having to close around the 17th May for a week, Empower began encouraging women to register their losses with Empower in order that we could approach the government for assistance, similar to other affected workers and businesses. Some 500 sex workers visited Empower in just 2 days to fill in the forms and share their experiences.

However, as we followed the government plan and analyzed the situation, our hopes for assistance changed. Although it is clear the Thai government intends to rely on tourism i.e. sex workers to rebuild the economy, it was also clear that sex workers were at the back of the queue in terms of being given government assistance.

Empower has ensured the situation of sex workers has received media coverage in
several national publications and will continue to remind both government agencies and civil society.

We can’t sit around and wait for the government to help us. One initiative we have joined is the “market –walking street” along Silom Road. The government has allotted stalls for affected people to sell products on weekends. Empower Patpong applied for, and was given one space. We are creating empower products to sell in order to create an emergency fund for sex workers, initially those affected in the Patpong, Silom and Suriwong areas.

Other Empower centers will join in selling products to contribute to the emergency fund. In the long term, we see a need for developing new skills and methods of working that are more sustainable through times of emergency, whether resulting from natural disasters like the tsunami or political and social upheavals like in the present.

Empower Foundation