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The goal is really for women to be able to work safely and fairly, in whatever work they do, including whether that is prostitution or not, in the home or not, across the board.

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(In) Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, it’s illegal; it’s criminalized. Our friends in Malaysia – actually there is no law specifically about prostitution, but it’s illegal under the religious laws to be having sex with someone you’re not married to. Across the world, it’s 116 countries where it is illegal.

Reporting ASEAN: In Empower’s work in ASEAN countries as a unit, what are your goals?

Reporting ASEAN: You’re saying so that people don’t feel that they don’t need to get into sex work?

Hilton: Eradicate poverty because it’s the right thing to do.

So that doesn’t mean that women are in control of their own work. It means that the government controls the sex work.

So you have to register; there are many rules that you have to do.

I really think investing in eradicating poverty is much more feasible that eradicating prostitution.

Start with eradicating poverty – why is that not criminal?

They have also held a sex workers’ summit called ‘Sex Workers of ASEAN Summit’ or SW-ASEAN.

“I think most societies everywhere have two faces when it comes to women and sex,” says Hilton, who is from Australia and has been with Empower for 26 years.

So why aren’t the workers protected by the labor law? And in ASEAN, people have been moving across borders many years ago. We went to CEDAW (Commission on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) last year and CEDAW gave us the recommendation to Thailand that they should stop criminalizing women, they should stop doing raids, they should put women under the labor law. Reporting ASEAN: Have any of the laws around sex work changed in the last 10, 20 years? They closed all the centers and said no, we can’t do that. They aren’t sure what penalties to impose because they don’t want the old ones.

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