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Organization information
Purposesupport of sex workers
Region servedThailand
Founder and DirectorChantawipa Apisuk

     Home | Organization | EMPOWER

EMPOWER ("Education Means Protection Of Women Engaged in Recreation"), also known as Centre for Sex Workers' Protection or Moolniti Songserm Okard Pooying ( ), is a non-profit organisation in Thailand that supports sex workers by offering free classes in language, health, law and pre-college education as well as individual counseling. The organisation also lobbies the government to extend regular labour protections to sex workers and to legalize prostitution.

EMPOWER was founded in 1985 by Chantawipa Apisuk; she still serves as the organisation's director and runs the head office in Nonthaburi Province. The organisation maintains centers in Patpong (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach, Phuket.

Unlike most Thai organisations operating in this field, EMPOWER takes a neutral stance towards sex work and does not pressure people to leave the trade. Partly because of this, EMPOWER receives little financial support from the Thai government; the bulk of the donations come from abroad.

In 2003 the organisation published a report stating that many anti-trafficking organisations failed to recognize the important difference between migrant sex workers and women forced to prostitute themselves against their will. They documented a May 2003 "raid and rescue" operation on a brothel in Chiang Mai that was carried out by TRAFCORD with support by the International Justice Mission (IJM). The operation was carried out without the consent of the sex workers and resulted in numerous human rights violations. IJM subsequently ended its countertrafficking work in Thailand. Chantawipa Apisuk has said that in her opinion these raids and the following arrests and stigmatization only worsen the situation of most prostitutes.

At the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004, EMPOWER set up a mock go go bar complete with a dancer to highlight efforts to increase condom use among sex workers; this was criticised by then Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan.

Shortly after the tsunami of December 2004, EMPOWER opened their office in Patong Beach, Phuket and published a report estimating that over 2,000 sex workers had died and lamenting the lack of support for migrant sex workers affected by the flood. In September 2005 they started a radio programme for sex workers in Phuket.

In 2006 EMPOWER opened a worker-owned bar in Chiang Mai, named "Can Do". It is intended as a model for exemplary working conditions in the industry, giving workers a day off per week and providing social security benefits.

EMPOWER publishes a Thai language newsletter called "Bad Girls" which allows sex workers to express themselves.

UNAIDS and UNDP announced at the XVII International AIDS Conference, 2008 in Mexico City that EMPOWER had received one of 25 Red Ribbon Awards. This award, designed to celebrate community leadership and action on AIDS, included a $5,000 stipend, allowing EMPOWER to participate at the conference.

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