Taipei: Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters

For Immediate Release 4-17-99

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jiou Reopens

Brothels on March 28, 1999

After 2 year Struggle by TaiPei Prostitutes

Sex Workers’ Struggle and Success

Sholan, Taiwan Association of Licensed Prostitues (TALP)

Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), Taiwan

Jean Chou, Pink Collar Solidarity, Taiwan

Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), Taiwan

The story of the struggle of Taipei’s licensed prostitutes has been a long one, dragging on over 19 months before a conclusion finally came. For those who helped us and supported us during the entire ordeal, here is a final report of events and an outlook on what is to come. It is long but we hope that you will bear with us for a moment to review the past, enjoy the present and plan the future!


The ordeal of Taipei’s licensed prostitutes began, when on September 6, 1997 licensed prostitution was overnight abolished and the licenses of 128 prostitutes, who had worked legally before, revoked. How could it come this far, some may ask?

When Chen Shui-pien, Taipei’s first Mayor of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the mayoral elections in 1994 he set about to clean the city of its sex industry operations. "Yellow" (pornographic) publications were burnt, KTV and other amusement parlours closed, while at the same time Chen took over the job of issuing licenses to Taipei’s eligible women who wished to work as prostitutes from the head of the city’s police department.

He naturally faced problems in the City Council as the KMT saw in this contradictory policy a chance of attacking Chen and gaining back their support. They openly challenged his contradictory stance towards the sex industry — on one hand closing down establishments of the sex industry, on the other hand issuing licenses to work in prostitution — and a cry for the abolishment of the system of licensed prostitution was heard in the council. Mayor Chen reacted quickly and declared that licensed prostitution should be completely banned. In the meantime, the City Council decided to bring forward again a former proposal by Chen, then city councillor, to grant the women a two year grace period in which to find new jobs and facilitate a smooth transition. However, Chen, now mayor, and his DPP blatantly ignored the proposal by the city council and put into effect a law on abolishing licensed prostitution on September 1997.

After a public outcry and harsh protest from those affected the city council approved in their October session to grant the women a two-year grace period, which should then have been immediately implemented by the government led by Chen Shui-pien. He did, however, ignore the decision by his legislative body and went ahead with his ban of licensed prostitution — he furthermore asked the City Council to reconsider their decision. In December the City Council again demanded that Chen implement their resolution which he again simply ignored. As a reaction to the public outcry on how the situation was handled, however, proposals were hurriedly drawn up regarding financial assistance for the sex workers to facilitate the transition. The proposals were rejected by the women as they considered them to be hot air without any actual basis and consistent deed from the government side. They furthermore demanded their right to work and carve out their living independently and not to have to rely on alms by the government.

The conflict between government and city council deepened with every month the closer the year-end elections for the Taipei city mayor came. In the City Council many KMT (Nationalist Party, Kuomintang) councillors but also DPP members fought against Chen Shui-pien and DPP members loyal to him, so the problem did not seem to be so much the question of the women’s welfare but rather a political struggle between the two opposing parties. Finally, in the mayoral elections Chen Chui-pien was defeated in favour of the KMT’s member Ma Ying-jiou who promised to grant the two-year grace period once he took up office. However, the DPP — in the role of the opposition party and voted out of power only four years after they had gained one of the most important posts for the first time in their history — started to retaliate and hamper the announcement with threats and delay tactics. It took until January 25, 1999 before Ma was able to reinstall proper legal procedure and proclaim the installation of the two-year grace period.

Achievements & Results

The ensuing struggle between the political parties how to implement the new policy, in which demands as to sanitation and rates to be charged by the women etc. were made by DPP councillors, finally came to a positive conclusion last Sunday, March 28, 1999. The brothels of Taipei’s licensed prostitutes reopened last Sunday after passing strict hygiene examinations by Taipei’s health authorities. Although 40 of formerly 128 licensed prostitutes have already accepted financial assistance by the government and changed to different professions, the other women are still there to take up work again. This is a political victory over random and reckless policy making in Taipei and though the road to real freedom, protection of rights, safe working conditions etc. is still long, sex workers in Taipei have a basis to build on. Their struggle and their success have shown that even society’s weaker members have a voice and can obtain their rights. The city government has, however, not become lenient towards prostitution. On the contrary, crackdowns on non-licensed sex workers have increased and raid in amusement parlours, KTV’s and other "suspect" establishments have increased. So Taipei’s sex workers still need to do a lot to improve conditions for and reduce harassment of prostitutes, licensed or non-licensed, in this society. The will continue to work to improve the environment in which they work in Taipei and they now have the self-confidence to continue our struggle with vigour. Following several points are listed where we thing the sex workers were successful and on the basis of which we, sex workers and supporters, can build our work:

* the official announcement of the two-year grace period means a political success for the sex workers. It restores to them the respect and the social fairness they deserve.

* their struggle initiated a debate among the public on what kind of prostitution policy Taipei city should have with all voices involved.

* It revealed that parties do not strive for the rights of citizens or their protection but to gain party interests.

* It uncovered the DPP as not being progressive at all but rather in their power struggle to side with the most conservative elements of society.

* And it revealed loopholes in the legislation and incompatibilities of competencies between city, county and central governments, which initiated a legal debate.

* The Taipei Alliance of Licensed Prostitutes (TALP) has developed its organisation and structure and formed itself into a union-like organisation with branches in various districts, together with a "Bodhi Fund". Most important, however is that the women have established their own organisation with the aim to strive for control of their lives. They are committed to :

- Making efforts to change their lives based on their won strength, self-respect and independence

- to reform the sex industry in Taipei to establish a more equal and just working environment with mutual assistance for all parties.

- to break through the power relationship that was in the past unilaterally decided by the managing people.

The "Bodhi Fund" will be financed by brothel managers/owners and prostitutes. The former system in which managers received 3 parts and sex workers 7 parts of the income will be changed to 1-2-7 with the managers supplying one of their parts for it. The "Bodhi Fund" will be established to provide:

- emergency funding for prostitutes in dire straits,

- funding for any sex worker who voluntary wants to change profession,

- funding to help other sex workers fight for their rights and protection,

- funding to support any expenses regarding improvement of public health and safety of their community.

The Alliance is furthermore committed to report any kind of irregularity within their brothels to the police be it illegal trafficking or child prostitutes thus contributing to the legality of their operation.

Collective Of Sex Workers And Supporters (COSWAS)

Taipei’s sex workers are not alone in their struggle for their rights, as many have joined the fight for a reasonable prostitution policy, which protects the women instead of victimizing them. Soon all supporters of Taipei’s sex workers and their rights will be able to join them in an organization which is designed to bring sex workers and supporters together and establish a dialogue in order to jointly shape the future of Taipei’s prostitution policy. This organization will be officially inaugurated on Labor Day, May 1, 1999, as the "Collective of Sex Workers And Supporters" (COSWAS). The collective will serve to establish a network to provide necessary information for the health and right of sex workers, for improved education opportunities, assistance for those who want to change their profession. Generally, the collective is aimed at enabling sex workers to life a life of dignity and respect for themselves. The collective mission is as follows:

1. Establish a "Fund for assistance in changing profession".

2. Promote and create opportunities for sex workers for further and advanced education.

3. Protection for sex workers who suffer abuse by management and report of abuse to authorities.

4. Promotion of public health and prevention of AIDS.

5. Questioning of Taipei’s prostitution policy and putting forward of proposals;

6. Funding of research on sex work and improvement of sex work’s condition.

7. Editing, translation and publishing of material and publications concerned with sex work.

8. Experience exchange and cooperation with other related organizations.

9. Promotion of the standing of sex workers in society and their rights.

A final remark

Taipei’s licensed sex workers will make every effort to gain control of their own lives without party politics intruding. And in order to support their efforts and the fight against political and partisan interests, we, sex workers and supporters, will continue to struggle against discrimination, stigmatisation and exploitation.

Last year we organised the "First International Action Forum for Sex work Rights" in Taipei. Because the Licensed Prostitutes issue has already caused broad discussion in Taiwan, we continue to promote that women in the sex industry should unite to exchange experience and organise to protect Sex Workers rights. We hope to make plans to organise the "Second International Action Forum for Sex work Rights" this August or September to enable us and our friends to exchange views on the past struggle and on necessary future work. With the establishment of the fund, we will have some resources to organise a follow-up conference to our "Action Forum" of May last year.

And for all of you who supported us during the past 19 months, either financially or with their invaluable experience, we wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude. It would not have been possible without your help, patience and advice. Please enjoy with us for a moment this feeling of success before returning to our mission - to work towards Sex Workers’ Rights.