Empower Foundation of Thailand has creatively used art and media to promote the rights of sex workers for over 20 years. Empower has collaborated with artists to bring their messages to people in Thailand, in cartoons, in nearly life-size papier mache dolls that are more well traveled than the sex workers they represent, and in their own books. But these have been primarily for audiences in Thailand, including brothel workers, health care workers, policy makers and the men who love the ladies. Electronic media has enabled their work to reach further.
Sex work situations have improved immensely since Empower started, and now there are fewer women in coercive situations in sex work, so few that their newest report says, “We have now reached a point in history where there are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers.” HIV rates have dropped enormously after devastating losses in the 1990s. And so Empower is able to bring a sense of humor despite the serious content of their new report on this ways anti-trafficking efforts affect sex workers. Empower’s new video is a silent film reminiscent of Buster Keaton. Watch the police and non-governmental organizations conspire to raid bars and brothels, and the creative use of sewing machines that follows.
Empower has long done community theater to bring information about HIV to sex workers and their clients. This video is one way to bring their fun exchange of information to the world, instead of the fortunate people who have seen Empower’s Honey Bee Theater on the streets of Thailand. This is community activism at its most entertaining and informative. The video is being shown during a session at the meeting of the Association of Women in Development on Friday, 19 April, at 16:30. But if you aren’t in Istanbul for AWID, you can see Last Rescue in Siam on Empower’s site. You’ll be glad you did.