International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
The full decriminalisation of sex work is recognised globally as being essential to ensuring the safety, security, and dignity of sex workers. In this video, members of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) from across South and Southeast Asia talk about the impact of criminalisation on the lives and rights of sex workers and express their demands for decriminalisation. Subtitles are available in English, Hindi, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Malay and Nepali.
This is my body. My blood. My flesh. These are all mine.
Only God and I should be concerned about them.
But in my country, my body and my soul belong to the government.
In our country, sex workers are criminalised.
Sex workers in Indonesia are stigmatised and discriminated against by the government.
Since sex work is criminalised in Nepal, we are compelled to deal with many complicated problems.
There are no rights for sex workers in Malaysia. So how are we supposed to work?
Sex work is still illegal in Lao PDR, and it is against the customs.
In most of the countries in our region, it is criminalised.
This impacts the sex workers and puts them in a dangerous system.
They face violence, stigma, and discrimination.
And many times we face violations of our human rights through the abuse of power.
In such a situation, there is great potential for an increase in violent activities.
Because of this, people have experienced a great deal of discrimination, violence, illegal arrests, and abuse.
Violent activities include police harassment, publication of photos and insensitive interviews by the media,
creating a difficult environment for them to live in their families and society.
Sex workers are seen as bad women. They’re seen as Indonesian society’s trash.
In many cases, a sex worker’s child will be stigmatised too.
I mean, many sex workers do not get accepted by their families after opting for this work. Neither do their children.
As citizens, we ask to be protected. However, to disclose our occupation as a sex worker is an issue.
Despite us being abused, being robbed, being raped.
It’s a problem for them because of the law.
People are making use of it only to get them arrested.
I’ve been arrested before for soliciting.
As the family breadwinner, once they are detained, their dependants have no rice to eat, no medicine and financial support, nothing!
I’ve heard stories of some of these girls getting their hair pulled, getting pushed down on the ground.
Especially in a patriarchal society, they don’t want us to exist. Hence, we have to challenge the root causes of these attitudes as well.
We sex workers are not criminals – do not categorise us as criminals.
Give full human rights to these sex workers and end the discrimination.
When sex work is decriminalised, if a sex worker is working for a bad boss, they can go and work somewhere else.
If I have unfair work conditions, there are mechanisms that I can access, without being arrested or penalised myself for being a sex worker.
And we’re able to prioritise occupational health and safety.
We want to work in a safe environment.
We want the same protection that workers in other industries have.
Decriminalisation is important because it would increase the accessibility of healthcare and legal support.
CEDAW made it easy for us to discuss and advocate on the issue of sex workers among the women’s rights activists and local bodies.
In the last two years, we at APNSW have started working in collaboration with International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP)
to build the capacity of sex workers to understand CEDAW
and how to advocate and work at the country level.
Since our government has committed to CEDAW, they know their role and obligation.
We have held the government accountable on the CEDAW Report, and whether they have acted on and implemented the recommendations.
For a better life, we have to change the law and policy. At the same time, we have to change society’s perceptions too.
That is our goal.
If we decriminalise this, we will be treated with dignity and respect.
We just want the government and society to know that sex workers are human.
They also need protection. They are people who are working to support themselves and their families.
We want the CEDAW committee to better understand sex workers’ issues.
Now even meeting with the government, with whoever, or even doing advocacy abroad
I am no longer afraid because I speak the truth, advocating for myself and for the team.
People always talk about human rights, but the sex worker community, we are not getting equal human rights.
We are not asking for special human rights.
We are asking for what they already have in international policy – human rights for every human.
I just want the government to recognise that sex work is work.
Because sex work is work.
“Sex Work is Work!”