Thailand

An unusual path to empowerment

Tar

Chiang Mai, Thailand

“Now in my life it’s the women who have the power”

My name is Tar, I am 27 and I was born outside of Chiang Mai city. I’ve been working in the Women’s massage center in Chiang Mai massage for one year now (For more information, click here).

Before, when I was in prison, I was thinking about the kind of job that I could do when I will be free again but when I got out of jail, I couldn’t find any job because I am an ex-prisoner. I knew about this project, Women’s massage center from ex-prisonners from the rehabilitation center in the prison, so one day I stopped by and asked fora job here. So I trained and got a job.

My parents are farmers, they grow vegetables. They are poor so every week I send them money. I also have two sisters, I am the oldest, and they are both pregnant so I have to provide for them as well.

When I was a child, women didn’t have any power, now in my life it’s the women who have the power. In my family it’s all ladies! The only man in my family is my dad, so the ladies have learnt to be strong.

“My family wanted me to study at the university (…). But then I got pregnant”

I had a baby boy when I was very young, I had a boyfriend at university and I got pregnant. Sometimes I say that I had to become a man, because I had to get the power! I guess before I wanted to work for the government, many Thai women are thinking about that because of the job safety. Everyone wants the same thing!

My family wanted me to study at the university, they wanted me to learn as much as possible because they believed that with a university degree it would be easier to get a high position job with a good salary. But then I got pregnant by accident, I wasn’t planning on having a family at that time. When I got pregnant, my family was supportive, they said that it was ok and  that they would take care of the baby, but at that time, I was not allowed to continue to go to school, the law forbid pregnant girls from attending school. Now they changed the law but before it was like that. I had total support and acceptance from my family for instance, they didn’t make me feel bad about having sex outside of marriage.

Then when I had my baby I started to work and one day while I was hanging out with my friends, they asked me to drive a motorbike somewhere but the motorbike had been stolen and I didn’t know about it but the police caught us and I was sent to jail. I just thought it was my friend’s motorbike.

“Sometimes when we do massage, male clients ask for sex, I pretend I don’t understand what they say”

Sometimes on the street, people look at me strangely because I look like a tomboy. Also, some people, mostly Chinese or westerners, think that I sell my body for money. Sometimes when we do massage, male clients ask for sex, I pretend I don’t understand what they say.

Our boss protects us too. If such a thing happens she usually goes talk to the client and explains to him that things like that do not happen in this business. She also talked to them about the project, about the fact that we are ex-prisoners and if they keep insisting she tells them   “that girl you asked for sex, she went to jail for killing her husband! If you still want the massage it’s ok”. Usually they go! Sometimes we talk, we give them the money back and ask them to never ever come back again. I have a girlfriend now, she works with me and sometimes she scares the bad customers away.

I feel more confident now that I am working here.

 

Toy

Chiang Mai, Thailand

“I undertook the massage training in prison, I thought I could (…) be able to financially take care of my family and my children”

My name is Toy. I am 38 and I was born in Chiang Mai city. I’ve been working in the same massage center for 2 years and a half. I have two children, one son and one daughter. I undertook the massage training in prison, I thought I could make a lot of money with massages and be able to financially take care of my family and my children. I am separated from my husband, he has a new family now.

My children are staying with my parents. They have a small piece of land where they grow vegetables for sell, yet they are quite poor. Because of that and because they take care of my children I send them money every time I get my salary. I am the only one supporting them since my ex-husband doesn’t send anything.

My parents have always encouraged me to go to school. When I was young I wanted to have a small business. I went to the university but I studied for only two years because I got a boyfriend. I was so in love, I didn’t think about the future anymore. Then, I got pregnant, I wanted to have a family.

 “After I did my time in jail, I knew I had to take the power back”

When I was young I was scared of men, because they had a lot of power and I used to think that I had to follow whatever they said. After I did my time in jail, I knew I had to take the power back. I went to prison because I let men decide for my life. I went to prison because of my husband. For 17 years I stayed at home taking care of the children and the house, I obeyed and followed him.  But my husband started selling drugs and one day the police came to our house and put the both of us in prison. I hadn’t done anything. I was in prison for one year and a half. My children never came to visit me, until today they don’t know I went to prison. It was a short time, I don’t want them to know.

Men always get the power. When I was young I was afraid of men because in my perception they always have all the power, but after I got out of prison I thought, ok, I need to take the power back. I knew I had to be stronger than before. Before I was just a follower. but when I was released from prison I had to take care of the children on my own, I had to get money to support them on my own. After I did my jail time, I knew I had to take the power back, it was crucial.

When women work and are financially independent, they can take the power back. Back in the times, only men worked and bring an income to the family but now women can do it too. Now I work and I have money to support my family.

“We want to raise women up in our society but you keep trying to push us down”

Sometimes men come for a massage and ask for sex. They can be Thai, Chinese or westerners, they all do it. It makes us feel very bad. We say no, we say that it is forbidden here. We put signs everywhere that there is no sex here. I would like to tell them that this is a place to help women, and when you come and assume that we are prostitutes, it is not correct. We want to raise women up in our society but you keep trying to push us down.

If male clients insist and are rude with us, our boss intervenes and if she catches them she calls the police right away. Sometimes they even show us their genitals so we say “no no no!”, and they offer us money but I just say no.

I feel stronger now that I work here. I am independent, I can earn my own money, I am really happy.

“But then it means that we have two jobs, we go to work to earn money and we have to take care of the house. Ladies do everything!”

Before, women had to follow men, now more and more women are taking care of their family on their own. But then it means that we have two jobs, we go to work to earn money and we have to take care of the house. Ladies do everything!

We are trying to make changes in the society but it will take a long time. I can see that things are changing, some men are even participating in the household chores, but they are not a lot.

It’s important to educate the younger generation. If not they just repeat what they see. My mother, for instance, she is the one who takes care of my children and she teaches my son that it is not the role of boys to care for house chores…

 

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