Thailand’s sex industry has employed thousands of people for decades, despite the fact that soliciting, procuring, or operating brothels is all illegal under the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act.
Until now, these labourers have had little legal protection. They are now eagerly awaiting the approval of the Sex Workers Protection Bill, which intends to address concerns of exploitation, human trafficking, and worker rights protection.
Sex workers’ experiences in Thailand vary drastically. While some are coerced, trafficked, or forced into the industry, others actively choose sex work as a way of income. Many organisations have attempted to address the issues that these employees confront in order to provide assistance.
The Service Worker in Group, or ‘SWING’ Foundation, founded in 2004, is one such organisation that has been helping and safeguarding the health, human rights, and dignity of sex workers in Thailand for nearly two decades.
Surang Janyam, the SWING Foundation’s founder and Director, told Thai PBS that the foundation’s goal is to support the rights of all genders of sex workers. It was, however, difficult for me as a female activist who has spearheaded several campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights since the foundation’s inception. She is highly regarded in the LGBTQ+ community.
“The root of the problem is in the economy,” she explained. A person becomes a sex worker because they want to work and earn money, but currently we just have laws that punish them and make them illegal, which does nothing to improve their life.”
To offer a better life for sex workers in Surang, they should be included in the labour bill, along with other professions, to encourage equality. She stated that she does not want a new law that legalises this industry; rather, she wants sex work to become a ‘not illegal’ career and the statute that criminalises it to be repealed. It would then elevate them to the same level as other employees.
Sex workers were among those who suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Surang, many individuals became homeless. Most of them used to live at their workplace, so when it closed, they had to spend the night on the street.
It was a difficult moment for the charity, as they had to do everything they could to help the sex workers. Instead of spending money on clinics or health care services, SWING used it to provide food for them.
The nonprofit now provides free health-related services to sex workers, including HIV and syphilis blood tests, PrEP medication, hormone level measurements for trans genders, and condoms and lubricants.
Surang’s ambition is to see sex work decriminalised in Thailand. She told Thai PBS World that there is a lot of hope that her goal will come true in today’s open-minded culture.