Friday, November 4, 2002

Charles Wendo

Wang focuses on sex workers' rights

Wang Fang-ping (yU?) has no support from any political party or local faction. That, in itself, might make the candidate for Taipei City councilor unique. But Wang is also one of the first candidates in Taiwan's electoral history to focus on a taboo issue — the rights of prostitutes and the sex industry.

Having been involved in various labor causes since 1987, Wang took up the cause of licensed prostitutes in 1997 when they fought the Taipei City government and city council's ban of legal prostitution, which threatened the livelihoods of these sex workers.

Wang saw the ban as an unjust action that violated workers' rights, and helped set up an association called "Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters" (COSWAS) in May 1999. The independent candidate has worked for that organization ever since.

Through her participation in politics, Wang hopes to inspire people from underprivileged classes to engage in political activities more vigorously. "Political participation should not be the privilege of rich people and professional politicians," said Wang. "We need to have our voice heard by the public." In her 1997 struggle, the candidate became disenchanted with politicians who she felt sacrificed the interests of the licensed prostitutes because of political considerations. That experience left her with the belief that political parties are not always able to represent the voice of every stratum of society.

Most of all, Wang hopes her campaign will break the taboo on public debate of issues related to sex workers and the sex industry. "Only a few civilized countries in the world have decriminalized the sex industry and allowed them to be regulated by the government," said Wang.

Acknowledging the general conservative attitude toward the sex industry in Taiwan society, Wang said she understands there is still a long way to go to win the fight, but she plans to advance practical approaches in her campaign instead of utopian ideas.

Wang proposes to abolish Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Law which makes prostitution a criminal offense. Wang also expects to hold forums in each Taipei City district that would bring residents and sex workers together to discuss how to handle prostitution in their communities. Wang said that during her fight on behalf of licensed prostitutes, she found that the sex industry contributed to the area's economy. Some small businesses depended on brothels for their existence, Wang noted, adding that the city should integrate the sex industry into the revitalization plans of old communities and local economies.

"Brothels need cleaners to launder their sheets. And cleaners are not the only ones who profit. Taxi drivers, food peddlers and other vendors benefit," said Wang. She considered the red-light district in Holland as a model Taiwan should imitate.

Lacking financial support and the endorsement of political parties and local factions, Wang was asked if the campaign was difficult to manage. "Not at all," answered Wang. "Compared to my experiences in labor movements, this campaign is not hard for me at all. Also, I am treating this campaign as another social movement to give visibility to the sex industry and bring respect to sex workers."

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Created: November 14, 2002
Last modified: November 19, 2002
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