Tag Archives: feminism

Growing Leaders, part II: Gung

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Last week, we shared a highlight on Ketsara Thutsunti, an amazing local leader who has had an immeasurable impact on our students. Today, we’d like to spotlight one of the students who has been positively affected by Ketsara’s dedication to growing the next generation of leaders. In partnership with ECPAT, Ketsara has chosen a select number of scholarship kids who have demonstrated leadership potential, and she has invited them to participate in a year-long Youth Leadership Program (YPP). One of those students is Gung.

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Gung is from a small village just down the road from the Resource Center and she has been involved with The SOLD Project almost since its inception 8 years ago. She’s now 17. When she was first asked to join YPP, she hesitated. She feared being a leader meant responsibility she might not be able to handle and she was afraid that she wouldn’t know or be able to command the respect of the other kids. Where she comes from, leaders have always been chosen because of their family name or influence and power. In her experience, leadership was something bestowed only upon those who had a reputable name. She didn’t realize that being a leader was something she could do.

Gung shared a story about an experience she had as a child. The temple in her village was hosting a northern dance and the small kids were all invited to practice and perform. However, because she lived in the southern part of the village, she was not allowed to participate. Growing up with exclusionary experiences like that limited her concept of what could be possible.

Though she was shy and balked at first, Ketsara encouraged her to try. Then, when she went to the first camp, she quickly learned that leadership was not only something she could do, but that she honestly enjoyed and benefited from it. She learned games and activities she could teach to the younger kids. She made new friends and learned new skills. She said she loved learning about the skits because it was a way to express emotions safely and appropriately––a skill that has been both a personal and cultural challenge––and it taught her to be more open and comfortable speaking in front of others.

Now when asked what leadership means to her, she responds,

“It is an opportunity to give advice to others––not only younger kids, but everyone. Leaders have the power to open opportunities for people.”

That’s one reason why the Youth Partnership Program is so important for kids like her. Ketsara’s mentorship has allowed Gung to see her own potential. It has allowed her opportunities to become a mentor herself. She can share advice with others and grow in self-confidence and her own ability to handle daily problems.

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“I now know how to start conversations with others and how to talk to others. Being in YPP has improved my relationships and helped me understand and talk about my feelings.”

When reflecting on when she was younger, Gung described herself as having a “weak” mind.

“When I had a small problem, I would cry, but now I am stronger and have experience to solve problems.”

With this new confidence she has been able to step up into a leadership role in her community of peers. She has many experiences she can now share with others, including choices about education. She said she would tell other kids to listen to other’s opinions, help them find the best path, and to follow their heart and dreams for whatever they want to do in life.

Gung is completing her last year of vocational school, where she is following her dream of learning English so she might one day work in the tourism industry. She hope to eventually live in a bigger city and work as a tour guide for foreigners. She may even want to spend time abroad working as an au pair. Having mentors like Ketsara, and gaining experience through YPP, along with having a community of support at The SOLD Project has made it possible for Gung to achieve these dreams.

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Lisa Winterfeldt is our International Liason, helping to bridge communication between our U.S. and Thai offices. She has experience teaching children with needs at various schools in the U.S., and in teaching with an international school in Bangkok.

Should Sex Work Be Legal? The debate over the legalization of prostitution and how it affects trafficking

shutterstock_1000 Words_EdOnlysmall

shutterstock_1000 Words_EdOnlysmall

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/EdOnly

The debate over the legalization of prostitution is inextricably linked with the prevalence of sex trafficking. Many believe that decriminalizing sex work will improve the current state of sex trafficking and the conditions for sex workers, arguing that moving the sex trade above board will make it easier to regulate and thus provide protection to sex workers. However, it is a complex issue. As the research and writing intern for the summer, I have read and learned about the debate regarding the legalization of prostitution, and though people on all sides are fighting towards a common goal–rights for women and a higher quality of life–they do not all agree on how to get there.

While proponents of legalization believe that sex work is a form of empowerment, those fighting to abolish prostitution believe that there are life situations that force women into sex work—poverty, lack of education, and more—and given better options, no one would choose the sex trade. The group that sees the “empowering” side of sex work believe that women should be able to choose whatever profession they wish. They argue that women should be able to use their bodies in any way they like; their bodies are theirs and they have control over them. Ultimately, sex work, in their eyes, is a choice that many women make in order to pay their rent, their education, their children’s necessities, and their bills. They want to see more protections, health services, and rights for sex workers who are often subject to abuses from johns, pimps, and brothel owners as well as law enforcement and the state. Those who are against legalization believe that sex work is a form of bondage and slavery that was never a choice, rightly understood. The only reason women enter the industry is for the money they need to survive, which they can’t get through other means. These abolitionists don’t want to see sex work becoming a viable profession, normalizing this form of modern day slavery.

There is a full spectrum of opinions on how best to deal with sex work, ranging from criminalization (the current law in the United States, besides Nevada), to complete legalization. In a TED Talk, The laws that sex workers really want, Toni Mac, a former sex worker, claims that full criminalization of sex workers is less than ideal, and furthermore, ineffective. Full criminalization forces all people involved in the process—buyers, sellers, and third parties—to choose between obeying the law, and feeding oneself or one’s family. In desperate situations, most women will choose to break the law in order to survive or provide for their children. The women who are most vulnerable are those who are uneducated, live in poverty, or migrants. She points out that if sex workers are criminalized, it becomes increasingly difficult to earn a living any other way than sex work; the law necessitates checking the infamous box regarding criminal records on job applications. Even worse, full criminalization of sex workers drives the industry further underground. As one example, Mac explains that these women are fearful of carrying condoms, as it is evidence of selling sex. Therefore, more often than not, they leave the condoms at home, increasing rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also partial criminalization, which places restrictions on brothel keeping and soliciting sex. This model prohibits businesses from soliciting sex. An unintended consequence is that women who are trying to support themselves and their children often work alone or in more obscure places, increasing their vulnerability. Unfortunately, like full criminalization, it is a vicious cycle—if sex workers are fined, the easiest way, and sometimes the only way they know how to pay off the fine is to sell more sex.

The Swedish or Nordic model offers another option by criminalizing sex buyers versus sellers in an attempt to target demand. This provides protection for the vulnerable populations of women who feel they must sell in order to provide for themselves and their families. It reduces the potentially negative impact of sex work on their prospects of one day working a real job or pursuing a career. While this model has many advocates, it still has issues. As Toni Mac claims, the result is, again, often more dangerous working conditions for sex workers. As buyers demand secrecy and anonymity, the industry again moves underground, making sex work less safe for the sellers.

According to Toni Mac, decriminalization will result in collective working, accountable bases, and worker’s rights. Decriminalization will provide protections for sex workers if they are in trouble, without the fear of getting arrested. There have been various stories of sex workers being assaulted or abused by their clients; in those situations, because their work is illegal, they have nowhere to turn. If they tried to seek help, they themselves could be arrested and lose their form of survival. Therefore, the argument for the decriminalization and the legalization of sex work is the fact that these women need more legal protections so that they can stand up for themselves against abusers and managers. Mac believes that this would improve the lives of migrant women and women stuck in the cycle of poverty. She admits that sex work is a survival strategy for marginalized groups; nevertheless, they deserve to be protected.

There is often slippage in terminology. To be clear, decriminalization and legalization are not necessarily synonymous. According to Amnesty International, decriminalization “means that sex workers are no longer breaking the law by carrying out sex work.” In contrast, legalization means “the state makes very specific laws and policies that formally regulate sex work” which Amnesty argues “can lead to a two-tier system where many sex workers operate outside these regulations and are still criminalized–often the most marginalized street-based sex workers.”

On the other side, the abolitionists believe that prostitution is not a job, nor is it a choice. It’s a modern form of slavery. Abolitionists generally argue that decriminalization and legalization will increase the demand. Moreover, more people would likely go into the industry if it becomes a viable, legal, and even respectable prospect. The demand for pimps and brothel owners will increase. For example, according to this article, neither Germany nor the Netherlands saw a decrease in sex trafficking when both countries decriminalized sex work. In fact, the numbers of trafficked youth increased, as did violence directed at prostitutes.

Abolitionists doubt that there is much choice in prostitution. Like Toni Mac herself said, it’s a survival strategy. It is the last resort for those without quality education or opportunity. “Sex work” strips people of their dignity and often leaves them emotionally, mentally, and physically broken.

Obviously, this is a complicated debate. One of the most helpful and formative resources for my thinking about this issue was a workshop production of Sarah Jones’ Sell/Buy/Date that was performed at the Berkeley Rep in July. In this one-woman show, Sarah Jones personifies multiple different people of different ages, races, backgrounds, and identities. All of her characters weigh in on the prostitution and anti-trafficking debate. A common theme I gathered from the various perspectives was that we live in a highly globalized, capitalistic and individualistic society, where oftentimes life comes down to self-fulfillment, frequently at the expense of others’ pain. Our largely patriarchal and misogynistic culture creates vulnerability for the under-privileged. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, those without opportunity for education, and the poor are oppressed by those who hold power and privilege in society. Consumerism encourages us to view the world as possible commodities for our consumption, and this often comes to include our fellow human beings. It’s as easy as spending money. Sarah Jones’ performance was captivating and thought provoking.

Having only dabbled in learning about this issue for the last couple of months, I have had a difficult time comprehensively grasping the complexity of the legalization of prostitution, feminism, and trafficking. Personally, I think the most striking observation is the dehumanization of people. Both the buyers and the sellers use their bodies as commodities. This results in an alienation that attempts to turn human beings solely into physical objects. However, human beings are more complex than what they are physically. Humans are emotional, humans are spiritual, and humans have feelings. I think that above all, it is important to recognize the tragic condition of our human nature, together. The debate surrounding this issue only emphasizes the immense brokenness that pervades through all human societies in our world. Without poverty, without inequality, without oppression, without hate, the debate would not exist.

I believe that from this point, we must strive as communities to build up hope. We all must begin to recognize humanity once again. I am incredibly thankful to have worked with SOLD this summer because SOLD intentionally humanizes the children and youth we work with through storytelling. Storytelling is powerful because it allows human beings to connect on a more intimate and deeper level. The mission is to recognize that all of these students who receive scholarships have names, families, hobbies, talents, and passions. And once we realize the deep humanity of every single person, we can learn to respect, value, and love people, universally.

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Sherry Luo is a Research & Writing intern with The SOLD Project. She is currently a student of Sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA.

Anne Hathaway Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women

Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women
Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women

Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women

Anne Hathaway has recently been appointed as the UN’s newest Goodwill Ambassador for women, following in the footsteps of other female celebrities such as Angelina Jolie Pitt, who served as an advocate for refugees on displacement issues, Nicole Kidman, who helped bring a spotlight on violence against women, and Emma Watson, who helped start the HeforShe campaign in her role to encourage men to speak up about gender equality.

Anne Hathaway has been brought on board to spotlight what is called the “motherhood penalty”– the effect of penalizing women in terms of pay and opportunities in the workplace when they become mothers–and her aim is to help change the mindsets around mothers in the workplace and promote office policies and arrangements that support equality for women, such as affordable childcare services and shared parental leave.

Hathaway, who recently became a mother herself this past April, has long been an advocate for women’s rights. She worked with the Nike Foundation (which incidentally has given The SOLD Project grants to help further our work), to support programs empowering adolescent girls in the developing world and she traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia to speak out against sexual violence. She also lent her voice to the CNN documentary Girl Rising on the importance of female education.

She wrote about her experience, and on what girls in Africa feared more than the drought crisis, which you can read here on The Daily Beast.

In regards to her appointment, Hathaway said, “Significant progress has already been made, but it is time that we collectively intensify our efforts and ensure that true equality is finally realized.”

If you want to follow her journey, you can find her active on Instagram.