One of Thailand’s most controversial and intriguing organizations celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Empower, which stands for “Education Means Protection of Women Engaged in Recreation”, is a non-profit organization with centers in Bangkok’s Patpong red light district, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach in Phuket. It provides women involved in Thailand’s illegal sex trade with free English classes and advice on health, law, education and counseling. It also lobbies the government to extend employment rights and benefits to sex workers and to legalize prostitution.
Founding director Khun Chantawipa ‘Noi’ Apisuk talks to CNNGo about the need to recognize sex workers as contributors to the economy, while sharing her controversial views on the trafficking of women.
‘We never call ourselves bar girls’
Describing the organization’s beginnings, Noi says they started out as a small group of women, both activists and sex workers, sharing language skills and life experiences together.
“We didn’t plan to evolve into a foundation; initially we just wanted to learn from each other and support each other.”
Unlike most Thai organizations operating in this field, Empower takes a neutral stance towards sex work and does not pressure people to leave the trade.