Fostering Civic Participation in Taiwan
Hundreds of licensed sex workers, protecting their identities with hoods and sunglasses, gathered in front of the Taipei City Parliament and City Hall, where they protested for more than 1 ½ years, demanding the return of their work rights.
In early 1999, lawmakers granted the sex workers a two-year delay to the closure after being pressured by 267 actions ranging from lobbying in parliament, group trainings and street protests. During this delay, the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS) was formed to fight for sex workers’ rights and provide transitional support to middle-aged sex workers who wanted to find other means of financial support so they could leave the industry.
The collective has demonstrated leadership in Taiwan as it has empowered citizens to become active and productive citizens. Li-Jun, a member, says of her involvement in the organization: “We participate in international conferences and protests and I have come to understand many issues I never understood before …. Because of my participation with a group of activists I understand the political system. In order for us to change the law and decriminalize sex work we protest against the government day and night. I have gained political literacy because of my participation.”
The organization has spent the last decade successfully fighting to empower sex workers through public awareness campaigns; overturn the societal stigma associated with sex and sexuality; and educate Taiwanese people on the relationships among citizens, political systems and the law in light of the work they do fighting for sex workers’ rights.
Mama Cash has supported the group’s work since their founding, including a $30,000 grant in 2007 to help finance their social activism work through conducting dialogues with other movements, producing literature on policy changes, lobbying lawmakers and empowering sex workers and clients to speak out in support of their rights.