KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 4 / October-November-December 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

CATW and BUKAL Speaking Tour in Australia

Cecilia Hofmann and Melvie Galacio at the Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care seminar, Brisbane (Photo: Jean Balson)

During September and October this year the NETWORK AGAINST SEX TOURS hosted the speaking tour in Australia of CECILIA HOFMANN, the Secretary of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia-Pacific and MELVIE GALACIO the Coordinator of Bukluran ng Kababaihan sa Lansangan (Association of Street Walkers). ANTHONY BROWN, co-producer of the 4ZZZ Radio program BRISBANE LINE, taped this interview with Cecilia and Melvie on September 26.

Anthony: What's the situation for women generally in the Philippines?

Melvie: Women are treated badly in the Philippines. Women are looked down upon by men, and many women see themselves as being much lower status than the males.

Cecilia: One of the indications of how women fare in the Philippines is in the large numbers of Filipino women who work abroad - about a quarter of a million leave the country every year to look for work - which tells us that there are not many good jobs, not too many options for women in the Philippines. The poor treatment of women is graphically demonstrated when you review the cases of violence against women - the numbers of which are very high. There are lots of battering of women in intimate relationships, lots of rape cases, every few hours there's a rape case, lots of incest cases. These are just some indications.

Anthony: Does the way that women are viewed in Philippine society relate to the fact that many Filipino women end up in prostitution?

Cecilia: Very often in the Philippines if a women has experienced sexual violence, it will so shatter her sense of self worth that she will be very easy prey for people who say, "Come and work in this club," or a pimp who says, "You might as well earn money on the streets, you're damaged goods anyway." The bars and clubs display signs saying, "Wanted sexy dancer, no references required, no experience needed." When there are few options, that kind of employment becomes one.

Anthony: So, many women are forced into prostitution because of socio-economic factors?

Melvie: Yes, in the Philippines that is true because, as Cecilia said, there's no work opportunities for women. There is also discrimination in wages. Women receive only 47 cents to a peso of what men earn for the same work done.

Cecilia: A lot of women are underemployed or unemployed. And there are a lot of women in the informal economy - which means that they are taking in laundry, cooking food and selling, doing a lot of vending, working as household help - very poor jobs. For prostitution not to be an option there have to be attractive jobs offered to women, and that's not happening in the Philippines.

Anthony: Melvie, you work with women involved in street prostitution in Quezon City in Manila. Could you describe what you do?

Melvie: We're helping the women to put up an organisation for themselves that is run by themselves too. We do that by organising the women, visiting them three times a week. We conduct education on women's situation and gender relations, and we provide some services for the women. We also visit the women in jail.

Anthony: What is life like for these women?

Melvie Galacio of BUKAL (Photo: Jean Balson)

Melvie: The women in the streets face many problems. They are all at times at risk. They are at risk from the police officers who arrest them for vagrancy and the manner of arrest is really dehumanising. The police just push the women and grab their hair, uttering degrading words.

Anthony: How much money do these women earn?

Melvie: We cover two streets where the women earn as low as 50 pesos ($2.50). In another area they can get as high as 400 pesos, but then 25 percent goes to the pimps. So it's really not very much money for the women and there are times when they don't get any customers at all.

Anthony: Do many have children?

Melvie: Lots of the women have children and even if they don't have children, they are often the breadwinners of their families.

Anthony: Do you come across many women who are on drugs?

Melvie: Ninety percent of the 300 women we've met to date are on drugs. They say they take drugs because they want to forget, they want to blur what is happening during the night. Also, because they have to stay awake during the night, the drugs help them. Most of the time it is the customers who give drugs to the women. Then they get addicted into it and whatever they earn goes to drugs.

Anthony: What's the prevalence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases among the women?

Melvie: Not one woman will say that she has not experienced contracting STDs. But, there is not good monitoring for those who are HIV positive or have AIDS and the government's support system has problems. However, there are organisations that offer free HIV checks and we encourage regular checkups. Our organisation hasn't the money to offer financial support. We can give moral support, but not financial.

Anthony: You've said that many of the women are under 16 - they are, in fact, children. How do children end up being prostitutes?

Melvie: The women we meet on the streets are mostly in their teens and there are some who are only 13 years-old. They end up in prostitution for so many reasons. Maybe 90 percent of the women we've met have experienced sexual abuse and incest during their childhood.

Anthony: What kind of future is there for these children?

Melvie: The women we meet on the streets are mostly in their teens and there are some who are only 13 years-old. They end up in prostitution for so many reasons. Maybe 90 percent of the women we've met have experienced sexual abuse and incest during their childhood.

Anthony: What kind of future is there for these children?

Cecilia: I'd like to add something about the children on the streets. Manila is a city that might have about 4 million people in squatter communities and slums. These are people who have come to the city because of the extremely unbalanced economic situation of no development in the countryside. There are large populations of urban poor families under great pressure living in communities which are often very disorderly with high levels of violence. To flee the violence in their communities or in their own homes, or else to contribute to the family income, children will very often go vending on the streets and they will be preyed upon by pimps or other people. There was, for example, a six year-old girl selling flowers who talked about jeepney drivers who would offer to buy her a hamburger - a big treat for a street child. But, afterwards she would be taken to a room somewhere, sexually abused and then given money. These are vulnerable children who will either simply be used by men who see them as easy prey or by more organised child prostitution rings.

Anthony: What are the laws in place to protect women and children in the Philippines what about rape and sexual abuse laws?

Cecilia Hofmann of CATW-AP (Photo: Jean Balson)

Cecilia: There is a law called the Child Protection Act passed in 1994 which talks about child prostitution. It makes the pimp and the client legally liable. It is hardly ever enforced, hardly implemented. There is a politician in the Philippines, a member of the Lower House of Congress, who is sitting in jail today because he was in the habit of buying under-age children for sex and one of the children complained. But, the way things are going, it looks like he might get off the hook.

The laws are hardly implemented because street children and children in prostitution don't have a lobby, they're not a political force, they're negligible, so they have very little protection. The rape law has just been changed after five years advocacy by women's groups, of which we were a very active part. It's a little better today in its scope. But incest for example, is not named in law although it happens very frequently. And the prostitution laws are bad. The law says that it is women who are prostitutes and when the police want to clamp down, they can never think of anything else other than arresting and putting lots of women in jail.

Anthony: And this is Filipino society's view of women?

Cecilia: Well, I'm sure it's not just Filipino society. The commodification of women is pretty well advanced here in Australia too, it would seem. I believe some labour groups and the ACTU have recognised women in prostitution as a labour sector.

Anthony: Melvie, are most of the clients of the women you work with Filipinos or foreigners?

Melvie: Most of the clients of the women in the streets are Filipinos. But in one area where we work, there are lots of recruiters who look for women to work in Angeles, though they don't know they are going to work in brothels. Lots of foreigners visit Angeles City and 80 percent of the establishment owners are Australians.

Anthony: I understand Australian men do not have a good reputation in the Philippines, is that right?

Cecilia: We have received reports from Australia about Filipino wives of Australians experiencing a considerably higher rate of violence. In Angeles City and in other parts of the Philippines where Australians have established resorts, or bars, or dive shops, it is known that they employ women who will be offered as commodities to the clientele who are often also Australian.

Anthony: Our perception is that Australians don't get involved in crime.

Cecilia: In 1995 when 14 women from Australia and one from New Zealand came to the Philippines to look into the involvement of Australians in the sex tourism industry, two federal police representatives, during a meeting with Australian embassy officials, told us they were aware of drug trafficking activities, they were monitoring Australians wanted in this country who were hiding out in the Philippines, and they were monitoring the activities of the establishment owners Melvie mentioned earlier. Therefore there is a level of criminality, surely.

Anthony: Would you agree that the Philippines is promoted in western countries as a place to go for sex?

Cecilia: Oh yes. The World Sex Guide mentions Angeles City very prominently. It says go to this or that club, "the girls are pretty, they'll give you a good time", there are "cherry" girls - this is the term for virgins in that city. It also tells you to stay away from certain clubs, "the girls are not enthusiastic," etc. It tells you how much to pay, how much you shouldn't pay, "don't let the women fleece you", "make sure you get all the services you deserve as a paying customer." The Philippines figures prominently in publications and on the Internet too, not only for sex tours but also for brides. There's a site which advertises "Filipino Dream Wives" and has attached a bride order form. You just put in your credit card number and the business can get started.

Anthony: As Filipino women, does that make you angry?

Cecilia: It makes us angry not only as Filipino women but also for women in general. On the trafficking map we produced for the Women's World Conference in Beijing, you will see that it's not just Filipino women, it's women from everywhere and anywhere, it's women even from eastern Europe. As soon as there are difficult political or economic conditions, or if migrant women are in situations of illegality in the countries where they are, if they are divorced and not able to find work, or if they are fleeing violence, they will be vulnerable. Today, the trafficking, the buying and selling of women for prostitution, is an extremely profitable global industry and this tells us that there must be millions and millions of buyers out there making this industry grow.

Anthony: What do you think this says about First World attitudes to Third World countries and especially about the attitude to women from Third World countries?

Cecilia: It obviously says that women from Third World countries are cheaper commodities - you can get more for the same money. But, it says most about attitudes to women in general. I think what we're seeing today is also a result of the sexual liberation movement in the 60s, which was very necessary for women because women, as I think everyone realises, were really very controlled, very oppressed by world religions, by cultural traditions, by laws, etc. So that women's movement towards greater sexual autonomy, greater sexual expression was necessary in the 60s. What has happened however, is that patriarchal capitalism latched onto this, realising there's big money to be made from women who are looking to be sexually liberated. This sexual liberation has also simply increased men's access to women. And I think what you see in most countries of the world today, is a sexual liberal attitude that says, "so what's the fuss? sex can be a commodity, sex can be work, sex can be the object of transactions." However, sexuality has lost its value as human intimacy. It has lost its value as a deep communication between people. And, this is happening in a context of still very unequal power relationships between men and women. It is not true in underdeveloped countries, nor even in developed countries, that women are now totally equal. Sexuality is still happening in a context of inequality.

Anthony: Would you agree that prostitution is really a human rights violation?

Cecilia: I think prostitution is an extreme discrimination against one group of human beings - women - who are presumed to have to provide sex for another group - men. This is obviously not a situation of gender equality. This is an idea, a very old and useful idea for the male population - that men need this, men have a sexual drive that must be met. This is the myth that a lot of us grew up with and some still continue to accept. But today, many people understand that even sexuality is socially constructed. That means that culture, tradition, the media, contribute to ideas of what sex should be. This is also an area of hope, because it means we can make changes if we want to. If we look at the issue of trafficking, and it is important to link the two, we see millions of women and girls around the world being trafficked, kidnapped, deceived, sometimes persuaded with big money into prostitution situations, and you can see that something's not quite right if it has to go through this system of coercion. It is definitely a human rights violation because when they are trafficked, the women are kept confined, they are in a situation of sexual slavery. But, even if they are not being coerced, if they are in developed countries such as Australia, by choice in a situation of prostitution, it is still not their sexuality that is being expressed, it is still men's sexuality that is privileged in prostitution and we believe that this is a case of discrimination.

Anthony: How can we respond to change the situation?

Cecilia: Like all attitude changes, it has to start with people wanting to think about it, with a lot of education, with a lot of discussion. This is a problem of the same difficulty as attitudes of racism and different forms of discrimination against certain people. I think sexuality is an area that has been little explored and little discussed except in feminist circles. Women very early on identified sexuality as a site of women's oppression. Think about this point: Do we want every human experience to be the object of buying and selling? There are many issues like this we really need to think about. Education and reflection can help us towards what we would like to imagine one day - a world without prostitution, a world without racism, without slavery, etc.

Anthony: Have you benefited from this Australian tour?

Melvie: The tour has become a vehicle wherein the discussions about prostitution and sexuality of women have again revived. And we have gained from this tour through visiting the services provided in Australia for women in violent situations and seeing how the women are supported.

Cecilia: This kind of experience is always very encouraging for us because these problems are so grim and so heavy that you can get discouraged at times, especially in countries like the Philippines where the hardships are so visible. But on occasions like this, when you meet other women who are working on these same issues, thinking about these same issues, it gives you hope for change. It's most important that we keep discussing these things. It's also good for us to know there is, in fact, a worldwide movement of women and men - fewer men I'll admit, we'd like more men to be part of this - reflecting on issues of gender relations.

Anthony: Do you have a specific message for Australian men about changing attitudes towards women?

Cecilia: Attitudes are so entrenched that part of a holiday is buying sex - one spends little money for a nice beach, warm weather and sex which is so easy to get. The Philippines has an official policy of welcoming tourism which the non-government organisations are not too happy about because of the consequent environmental damage and because the meeting of very poor, very needy people, with people who are apparently much better off, is always a problematic one. We'd like to see attitude changes that will no longer look upon women, girls and little boys, in any country, as commodities. It is very easy to deny a full humanity to someone whose skin is a different colour, who is younger and therefore relatively less assertive, less powerful. There is a need to rethink attitudes of respect for the people of the countries we visit.

Anthony: How effective is our law against paedophilia in preventing Australian men from having sex with children in the Philippines?

Cecilia: So far, there's been one case that was prosecuted and one paedophile was sentenced. I think that law is very good and very useful. Australia was one of the first countries to pass such a law. But I don't know that it will have an immediate effect on prevention until the population here and in the Philippines see that it is really systematically implemented. There needs to be more cooperation and exchange of information. And, because this law depends upon complaints being filed in the Philippines, we need to do our bit also to make sure that people are empowered to file complaints. In the Philippines people are scared of filing complaints, because they can be bought off, they can be killed. But at least a law like that sets a standard. However, we are unhappy about it for the reason that this law protects a girl under the age of 18, but if she's 18 years-old she's no longer protected, and we think that the legal age tells us nothing about the vulnerability of a girl of 18 who may be from a rural family, who may be very poor, very needy. It's a weakness in that law that we are only willing to protect children, while young women and older women are not protected.

BUKAL is an APHEDA project partner sponsored by the Australian Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union

You can make a tax-deductable donation to BUKAL through
APHEDA, (the Humanitarian Overseas Aid Agency of the ACTU,)
Trades Hall Box 3,
4 Goulburn Street, Sydney 2000.

or contact BUKAL directly:

Melvie Galacio, BUKAL,
c/- Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific,
Suite 406 Victoria Condominium,
41 Annapolis Street, Greenhills,
San Juan, Metro Manila, 1500
Tel: (632) 722 0859
Fax: (632) 722 0755


Graphic: from T.N.T. No.17, June 1997, Kanlungan Center Foundation, Inc.

Extracts from the seminar in Brisbane Sept. 25th

Melvie Galacio spoke about the work of BUKAL (Association of Street Walkers):

In The Philippines we are facing real big issues. We have problems of environmental degradation, population, pollution, etc. Poverty is a very big problem and you can readily see the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Also, the women's movement is faced with the big issue of prostitution. There are some 300,000 women and girls in prostitution and UNICEF estimated 75,000 prostituted children.

There are many forms of prostitution in the Philippines. There are entertainment establishments for the wealthy like where the politicians go, and for the poor there are clubs and bars with just a dirt floor. There are also men's clubs and massage parlours which are, in fact, prostitution dens. There is prostitution going on in evacuation centres wherein men recruit women to work in bars. There is also prostitution for sailors we call it "akyat barko" which literally means "go up the ship" . But the most pitiful form of prostitution is the street prostitution.

We are working in just two streets in Quezon City, (Quezon Ave, Delta and EDSA, Cubao). In over 14 months now, we have met 300 women in the streets who range from 13 to 47 years-old.

Most of the women we have met are between 13 to 20 years-old and they started during their early teens. Most are homeless. They stay in squatter areas or cheap hotel rooms when they have money. Otherwise they just sleep on the sidewalk. Most of the women are single parents and family bread winners although their families often don't know what they are doing for a living. They usually end up with those who pimp them or with the drug pushers as partners. They also have health problems as they are very vulnerable to STDs and other stress-related illness because they are on the streets from 7 at night until 6 or 7 in the morning. There is one area in Cubao where a "gimmick" (they don't call it "work") runs 24 hours.

Graphic: Women Empowering Women, CATW-AP, 1993

The women also face problems of violence from sexual to verbal and physical abuse from passers-by and customers. One woman was beaten up by teenagers with a baseball bat. She was hit on the face and now she can't move her jaw.

Another serious problem for women on the streets is the police. Street walkers in the Philippines are arrested for vagrancy. Although there are lots of vagrants in the streets, the police arrest only the women. Vagrancy carries 2 to 4 months in jail. Many have experienced miscarriage because the police just shove the women inside their cars. There are also women who were hit by speeding cars while trying to avoid arrest.

Most of the time, the police ask for "grease" money usually about 200 pesos from each woman. We ask the women why they risk their lives, why not just give the police 200 pesos. But the women say, "We can give one of them 200 but there are 4 to 7 policemen from different stations going around every night."

In the street, violence is not only experienced by women in prostitution. Our project staff also experience some harassment from police and passers-by. We have been pushed around by the police and I was once kicked in the butt by a policeman who was drunk and had no name tag on his uniform. Oftentimes we don't bother to file charges because we don't know their names. The government recently ran drug tests on policemen and found many who tested positive. Men in general see women in the street as prostitutes. They think every woman has a price on her head. One of our project workers was an Australian and men asked us how much she cost.

Graphic: Women Empowering Women, CATW-AP, 1993

There are also problems with drug addiction. Most of the women are into drugs like the so-called "poor man's cocaine" (shabu) and solvents. In the street you can also see another form of prostitution - young boys who exchange solvent for sex with girls as young as ten.

There is also trafficking in the streets. There was a woman who was trafficked and sent to Malaysia through the back door. She was put in a brothel but was able to escape. There is also internal trafficking in women. In the area where we work, there are lots of men recruiting women to go to Angeles City.

Because of their experience, it is not surprising that these women have very low self-esteem. What our project is doing, is to help them put up a nurturing organisation for the women, run by the women.

In doing that, we organise and visit the women on the streets in our van where we can serve coffee and chocolate. That van also serves as a resting place for the women especially during the rainy season. Sometimes the van is a refuge from the police. We also give services to the women - condoms, counselling and education. We help them to access legal services at no expense if they want to file complaints.

We also give training on alternative health care because medicines are very expensive in the Philippines. For the services we can't provide, we network with other organisations for medical services, free check-ups and at-cost medicine.

Once a week our group visits women in jails. Inside, we conduct more structured education sessions which last several days and focus on general health, STDs, reproductive health, women's situation, violence against women and other women-related topics.

And we have a publication so that women who are not coming to the van can be reached with our bi-monthly newsletter. The women are really active through the newsletter. They write about their problems and ask advice.

The program now needs a drop-in centre. During the night, it is very hard for the women to talk to us because it is their time to get some money for a living. A drop-in centre could also serve as temporary shelter for women and their children. There was a case of a 47 year-old former prostituted women with three grandchildren and two daughters who are now also in the prostitution system. She locked the kids in a motel room but she was arrested. It was Friday night, and as there are no court proceedings during the weekend, she was not released until the Monday night. It was fortunate that the room boys heard the cries of the kids and got them out.

Graphic: from Ibong Malaya, RCPC and Kapatid, Hong Kong, 1981

Extracts from the seminar in Brisbane Sept. 25th

Cecilia Hofmann spoke about global trafficking of women:

Many issues that are women's concerns today are being situated in a human rights framework. A lot of issues are being understood as violations of the very basic principles of human rights and we have been discussing whether prostitution and trafficking in women can also be understood in this way.

We produced a map for the World Conference of Women in Beijing which shows the trafficking of women in the Asia-Pacific region. But trafficking is a phenomenon that is not confined to this region. For example, there is a lot of trafficking of Latin American and Caribbean women into Europe as well as into the Asia-Pacific region. Mexican women were found in brothels in Japan. Colombian women have been reported in brothels in Thailand. There are also African women being trafficked into Europe.

In our map Central Europe and Russia also figure. Because of political upheaval and economic dislocation, these women have been put into very vulnerable situations. They are prey to recruiters and traffickers and have been turning up in the region. A few years ago there were women from the Ukraine in Manila, in high-class, luxury men's entertainment clubs. There have been Russian women in Thailand, in Hongkong, in Macau, in Japan and, I believe, here in Australia.

Very often it is women of colour who are trafficked. But there are white women who are also trafficked and absorbed into what is today a global industry. Any woman in a vulnerable situation anywhere, will be at risk of either being recruited, persuaded, or even kidnapped for the purpose of trafficking.

Trafficking is not a new phenomenon. Some of you may know the term "white slavery" which referred to the trafficking of European women in the 19th century. White women from Europe sometimes disappeared and then were found in brothels in the colonies in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. But since those days, there has been a North/South divide and today it is women from the countries of the South that are particularly at risk. Although, just a few years ago, there were white Australian women advertised at one of the luxury clubs in Manila where they had a performance of very sexualised entertainment.

Graphic: Against All Odds, published by Isis International and Kali for Women, 1994

There is a lot of written material, a lot of research, and many organisations are particularly concerned about the situation for women in some countries.

Bangladesh is a country often beset by natural calamities and its people are very poor. It is a country where women experience an incredible amount of violence. In Bangladesh, acid throwing is very common. If a young girl spurns a suitor, he will get angry, follow her in the street and throw acid on her face. If a husband suspects his wife of any misdemeanour, acid throwing is a favourite form of violence. Unfortunately it is being "exported" and there are now cases of acid throwing reported in Egypt.

Women have it so bad in Bangladesh that they can be persuaded to follow recruiters and sometimes to marry men who say they will take them to Pakistan. But, when they get to Pakistan they are often sold to carpet weavers who want free labour and a sexual slave on the side. There is information that in Pakistan women and girls who have been trafficked in from other areas are still sold in clandestine auctions.

Burma is another country where there is a lot of trafficking. People are trying to flee a very oppressive and illegal regime. There is recruitment for work and the girls often end up in brothels in Thailand, in the border areas, and in Chiang Mai. In 1994, Asia Human Rights Watch published a book on the modern forms of slavery which discusses the trafficking of Burmese girls. They were held, confined in brothels and there was a case of 19 Burmese girls who tested positive for HIV. The Thai authorities sent them back over the border into Burma and reports are that the Burmese authorities gave them lethal injections.

Nepal has an economy and a geographical location where people are in a situation of economic distress. Recruiters go to mountain villages and persuade families to part with their daughters by offering them jobs in India. Their families receive money - a year's wages for girls of 13 or 14 years-old. They are told that their daughters will find jobs in factories or in households but, in fact, what happens is that the vast majority of these young girls end up in brothels in the six major cities of India. It is huge business and at any one time there might be 20,000 girls from Nepal in India.

Just two months ago, we had the opportunity to go to Bombay and actually see the conditions with our own eyes. There is a section of the town with maybe 2,000 brothels in very simple, small houses, lined up one after the other like rabbit warrens. Women stand out in the streets all day and all night while the buyers cruise around making their choice.

There are programs for women in prostitution in Bombay. One is the project of a religious order headed by Sr. Rogini Fernandez. Sr. Rogini told us that the new arrivals of 13 to 15 year-olds are a really pitiful sight as they beg her to take them away. When there are new girls, the word spreads around and that brings the clients in for the chance to use bodies that may not yet be infected with HIV or some other disease. So these girls are in great demand. Apparently, for the girls to tolerate their lives in the brothels, they are given drugs and closely watched because given any chance, they will run away. These young girls are not among the women standing out on the streets. For the first two to three years, they will be kept confined and guarded inside the brothels. But after two or three years, these young women will stand outside and will no longer run away.

Graphic: Against All Odds, published by Isis International and Kali for Women, 1994

The questions we ask are: What has been done to them? What has happened? Have these women now chosen prostitution? Have they now accepted being there? One of the main points under discussion in the international debate is: "If women opt for it, then should prostitution be accepted as an act of choice?"

The reason why we in the Philippines are concerned about this issue is that Filipino women unfortunately figure prominently in this map. Filipino women are also trafficked in the region. They are in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Korea because of the US bases there.

In May this year, a conference was held in Okinawa about military prostitution. The Okinawan women presented documentation they have been carrying out since the 1950s on violence against women - rape, murder and battering - committed by military personnel. In the Philippines we are again concerned about military bases because the United States is pressuring our government to allow US Navy access for R&R and military exercises in twenty-two ports. Although we thought it to be an issue of the past, military prostitution might be an issue of the future again for us.

Another group trafficked in the region are women from Thailand. We have information that Thai women were brought into New Zealand and kept in a situation of debt bondage working off the costs their traffickers had incurred, like their airfares. They even had to pay for their board and lodging in the brothels!

The business of trafficking is a low-cost high-profit operation for the traffickers who are often syndicates. The export of Filipina entertainers to Japan is estimated at 150,000 per year and the involvement of Japanese crime syndicates has been undeniably demonstrated.

In some cases trafficking is not organised by syndicates, just individuals who see good business. In the Philippines two years ago, there was a couple - a Filipina with a German husband. They recruited eight young women to work in a restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria. The young women from a province north of Manila, never heard of Lagos, Nigeria. They saw this German husband and they expected to go to Germany. The papers were all fixed for them and they never had to do a thing. They were escorted through the Philippine airport by an official in uniform. They were told to go through a particular immigration counter where they were whisked through to the plane. They arrived in Lagos at 2 in the afternoon thinking, "This doesn't look like Germany." An Egyptian woman who met them at the airport said, "I paid $21,000 for each of you to work for me." By 6pm that evening, they were taken to work in a club that offered women to mixed clientele - Asians, Filipino seamen, Europeans and local men. We are currently working on this case. Seven of those women have come back to the Philippines, some with children. One woman has gone missing. She was last reported to have been seen drug-addicted on the streets of Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast. There is now a court case against their traffickers.

Graphic: Against All Odds, published by Isis International and Kali for Women, 1994

Trafficking is being addressed today in a lot of United Nations general assembly resolutions, in a lot of conferences. But, there is no debate about trafficking as a crime against women, children and sometimes boys. There is debate on prostitution. At least four different theoretical positions on prostitution have emerged. The two main positions are: (1) prostitution is a human rights violation of all women, not just the women in prostitution, and; (2) prostitution is work just like any other job, it is a service sector, an employment for women under certain conditions.

If prostitution has become such a big phenomenon worldwide, it is because prostitution is very, very profitable. In 1995, some data from Australia talked about 30 million dollars being generated by prostitution in Australia. In Japan in 1995, prostitution generated profits equivalent to the defence budget. In 1995 in Thailand, prostitution generated profits of between 18 and 21 billion dollars, or slightly over half the national budget. Pornography alone in the U.S. is thought to generate about 12 billion dollars a year. We see pornography as the propaganda arm of prostitution.

Many women are in prostitution because they don't have options or because among bad options it is sometimes one of the better options. But, why are our economies so designed that women only have bad options?

In 1995, we sent a researcher to Thailand from the Philippines and that person was really surprised to see how much more prosperous and developed Thailand is than the Philippines. On the other hand, she was also very surprised to see how much more prostitution of women and children there is in Thailand. But, if Thailand has developed economically, then presumably there are more jobs, and presumably women have more economic options. So, it must be the case that women do not participate in economic development. There must be structures that exclude or disadvantage women, and they do not compete on an equal basis with men for the profits from economic growth. Another factor is the infrastructure of prostitution in Thailand, the link between military bases and prostitution, for example.

The link between militarism and sexual exploitation is one that has been discussed in many studies. Aggression against women is sometimes stimulated deliberately in some military cultures. For example, during the Falklands war and the Gulf war, military personnel were given a regular diet of pornographic videos. There is a link between aggression against women and aggression against all kinds of other enemies.

Graphic: Against All Odds, published by Isis International and Kali for Women, 1994

For us it is very important to include prostitution in the continuum of violence against women because prostitution is often overlooked in many discussions. Sometimes it is more than an oversight, sometimes there are interests that would have prostitution de-linked from violence against women in general.

Another issue being discussed is the sexual abuse of children. Is child sexual exploitation so qualitatively different that we accept those same things happening to women? For us, this divide of child/adult is artificial. We believe that prostitution will exploit anyone who is vulnerable - children, young women, grown children. Shall we say that if they are under age it is a crime, but when they are 18, and they are still in prostitution, it is their choice? The issue of child/adult is very problematic because it creates categories of acceptable and unacceptable prostitution. We also have to understand that the clients are seeking younger and younger women whose vulnerability and powerlessness is an attraction. The legal age does not tell you anything about vulnerability. The legal age is just a legal cut-off point. It tells you nothing about the social realities of young women over 18 who are every bit as vulnerable as children of 14 or 15.

Another issue is that of consent. Is the women's consent the key in deciding whether prostitution is a human rights violation or not? Western liberalism has raised individual will and consent to its highest value and is overlooking social impact. For us, prostitution is not just about individual women, prostitution is about the status of women, it is about the humanity of women, it is about the exploitation of one group of human beings for the profit and use of another group of human beings. We are really looking at a class, gender, and race situation.

Women Cannot Be Bought - National Speaking Tour of Australia was organised by the Network Against Sex Tours. Cecilia and Melvie visited Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney. For more information write to:
NAST, P.O. BOX 1338, ST KILDA, VIC. 3182.


Cecilia Hofmann is the Secretary of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific. She is active at local, national, regional and international levels, and has been called upon by UN meetings to provide expert input on the issue of prostitution and trafficking in women.

After many years of work with migrant Filipino organisations in Europe, in particular Switzerland, she returned home to the Philippines in 1989 as head of the Gabriela Commission on Violence Against Women (GCVAW). There she became heavily involved with Buklod Women's Centre, which worked with prostituted women in Olongapo. Today she is chairperson of Buklod, and continues to be instrumental in the campaign for the rights of Fil-Am (Filipino-American) children.

Following GCVAW, she worked with the Women's Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organisation (WEDPRO), again with a strong focus on women in prostitution. At present she continues this commitment with her work at CATW-AP. She has also played a key role in SIBOL, a women's initiative developing feminist legislation that received national prominence for its role in furthering the Rape Bill currently before the Philippine Government's congressional bicameral committee.

She is respected by local grassroots activists and international experts alike. She sits on the boards of three of the main grassroots organisations working with women in prostitution: BUKLOD, WEDPRO/Nagkakaisang Kababaihan and BUKAL (Bukluran ng Kababaihan sa Lansangan).

Cecilia was instrumental in organising the 1995 Campaign Against Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Filipino Women exposure/study tour, and impressed many of the Australian participants with her commitment, knowledge and ability to articulate dynamically and clearly the issues involved in prostitution.

In my discussions with her we identified some focus areas for a tour. Obviously, prostitution is her prime focus, and within this we felt it would be valuable for her to talk about the way prostitution operates internationally, and the impact the prostitution debates in the West have on countries such as the Philippines. This includes issues such as whether prostitution is work or a human rights violation, prostitution as empowerment or prostitution as violence, etc.


Melvie Galacio is the coordinator of the Bukluran ng Kababaihan sa Lansangan or BUKAL, a grassroots organisation working with women in street prostitution in Quezon City, Metro Manila.

Melvie has a rich background in grassroots community development. She has worked with women workers within the Philippine union movement, then in women's health and AIDS education, and now with women in prostitution. She is also a skilled healer with a strong interest in traditional medicine: she practices acupuncture and teaches Chinese healing techniques.

Melvie is a founding member of BUKAL. With a small team of three, she works with women and children in street prostitution. Street prostitution is dangerous and violent in the Philippines, and there are few services for the many women it exploits. BUKAL offers non-judgemental and empowering services.

BUKAL works on the streets and in prisons, creating relationships with women who try to survive the brutal prostitution industry. Much of their work is carried out in their mobile centre, a passenger van fitted with coffee and tea facilities, condoms and educational comics. The mobile centre provides a place for the women to simply rest or talk about their problems. The BUKAL team provides informal counselling, and links women to legal, health and other counselling services. BUKAL also offers popular education, in the prisons and in other venues. Often this is the first time for women to tell their stories and begin to process the violence and abuse they have experienced. BUKAL seeks to affirm the women's stories, look with them at the structural issues that exploit them, and develop concrete ways to change their situation.

Through this work, Melvie has a deep awareness of the day-to-day struggles of women in street prostitution. She brings both an acute understanding of the destruction and pain in these women's lives, and a powerful belief that the women can experience a life where their humanity is affirmed and valued.

BUKAL is funded by the Australian Government's AUSAID programme, and another Australian organisation, APHEDA, has also committed to fund the project. Melvie and her team have had ongoing contact with Australians visiting their project and they were also intensely involved in organising the Philippines-Australia-Aotearoa Campaign Against Sex Tourism study tour in 1995.

A speaking tour with Cecilia Hofmann and Melvie Galacio will bring together vast international experience and powerful grassroots involvement.



and NETWORK AGAINST SEX TOURS (NAST) co-coordinator WOMEN CANNOT BE BOUGHT National Speaking Tour Secretariat

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