Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact
Empower is a women's organization in Thailand offering support to women working in the sex industry. EMPOWER reaches more than 20,000 sex workers each year, and there are more than 500 active members all over the country.
Empower programs include:
1. Education including school education through the Non-Formal Education System of Ministry of Education and Language and other training, such as law, health, labour and human rights.
2. Health and HIV/AIDS with special focus on Occupational Health
3. Life Skills training such as banking, computer and internet, art, etc…
4. Leadership including organizational development and networking
Community strengthening, building a solid base for sex worker activists to grow and organize
5. Advocacy making sex worker issues understandable, visible and important to policy makers and wider society
6. Documentation and Resource Center about sex work history and up to date situation, human rights, law, sexuality, women’s health and HIV/AIDS, etc… including website development: www.empowerfoundation.org.
7. Art and Culture, using art creation processes to regain self-confidence, social and cultural linkage, community participation and mobilization, public education and social attitude change (i.e: Honey Bee Street Theatre).
8. Sex Workers’ Human Rights Defenders providing counseling, documentation, awareness raising and advocacy on human rights abuses identified by sex workers
Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing
Society refers to prostitutes as criminals, immoral and source of dangerous disease. They are not a human beings, they should not get any help or social support but must receive punishment by law. For more than 23 years EMPOWER Foundation has been working amid intricate conflicts in society. We try to remove stigmatizing label of “prostitute” and refer only to “people” in sex work. Sex work is not a moral issue, it is not a legal issue, but it is an economic earning and opportunity to work. Prostitution can not be solved by rehabilitation, punishment by law does not encourage dignity… we must respect the equal rights of people no matter difference of races, nationality, beliefs, education, gender… professions. Hence, Empower strives to provides an avenue for sex workers to access their basic human rights like decent work, education, good health, access to the law, community, social and political participation in the moment. At the same time Empower strives to make these basic human rights available to all sex workers as a part of mainstream society by addressing current discrimination and stigma under the law and in society.
Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?
Initially Empower offered English language skills and in return Empower had an opportunity to learn from women how they viewed their work and the surrounding issues. This partnership has strengthened over the years and Empower has become a center of exchange, advocacy and support.
Empower recognized the community needs to access to information, tools and also needs to work against the inevitable blaming and discrimination. In addition Empower created an HIV/AIDS information project, Naam Chewit newsletter and resource center, to provide prevention information and also activities to combat fear and discrimination, by emphasis on Living TOGETHER with HIV/ AIDS.
Empower expanded its program to include a famous street theater called “Honey Bee Special”, which change the public acceptance to the roll of sex workers, allow them to directly interact with audience in entertainment street by using intellectual means. Another art project by EMPOWER for instants; the ‘Labour Sans Frontieres’ from 2003 until today, a public interaction art project, which more than 300 migrant women has been participated in creating a ‘papier-mache’ dolls to represents their dreams. EMPOWER created the ‘Journey of Kumjing’ to bring the dolls to different cities around the world, telling stories of migrants dreams. Today 110 families in 12 countries has adopted the dolls and become active family members to tell stories of Kumjing’s dreams to people in their areas.
By 1990 the initial language/literacy activities had developed to a stage capable of offering Non Formal education qualifications i.e. NFE equivalent to Thai school qualifications. The Ministry of education officially supported the registration of Empower NFE Institute, the first ever school for sex workers in Thailand. “Live to Dream” a health center and refuge for people who need community support and care, until they can restart their lives independently at work or with their family.
Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible
Empower will want to continue its efforts to improve rights and income generation options for sex workers as well as serving their basic human rights.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
Many active sex workers have been invited by policy makers to be part of developing government regulations, policy and law drafting, including legal revision of the prostitution law. Empower plays a significant role in the committee of national aids plan, labor law consultation; social security adviser.