Justice and Peace for Global Commercial Sex Workers: The Plight of Aboriginal Migrant Women in Taiwan

By Au, Connie | The Ecumenical Review, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Justice and Peace for Global Commercial Sex Workers: The Plight of Aboriginal Migrant Women in Taiwan


Au, Connie, The Ecumenical Review


Commercial sex work has been a phenomenon across countries, races and cultures throughout centuries, as long as patriarchal hegemony has existed. In both the Old and New Testaments, stories and regulations about "prostitutes" abound. In Western and Asian literature and arts, we find records, statues and paintings about prostitution. In the so-called developing and developed countries in the contemporary world, sex work exists in tourist hotspots, suburban areas and villages. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has been a taboo to talk about. The more the subject is avoided, however, the more blinded society and the church are to the oppressive situation that women have undergone. Especially in the current globalized world, commercial sex work is no longer a regional issue, but a cross-country and cross-cultural problem, which has developed into a global sex industry, manipulated by the invisible hands of the global economy. To understand the problem, we can no longer simply condemn the patriarchal oppression against women in general, but we need to identify what kind of woman is particularly vulnerable in such oppression that she would easily fall into the trap of commercial sex work. We also need to identify the reasons behind the lure of sex work. It is no longer just an ethical issue, but a social, economic, religious and familial challenge.

In this article, I will first investigate the social situation of aboriginals in Taiwan and how familial, economic and gender oppression can increase the risk of an aboriginal woman engaging in exploitative commercial sex work. Taiwan is chosen because it is one of the Asian countries that has the most sex workers. It has also had a situation between the aboriginal and the Han Chinese majority as the country has been industrialized and commercialized. Hence Taiwan provides a typical scenario for us to understand aboriginal women in modern society and the reasons for commerical sex work. Taiwan also provides vivid examples of Christian movements against human trafficking and coerced sex work as well as pastoral ministry for sex workers. Second, I will argue that this particular Taiwanese context can be a reference point for understanding women of similar backgrounds easily falling into the trap of commercial sex work around the globe. Finally, I will discuss what justice and peace mean to the women who face multifaceted oppression in the contemporary world.

The Aboriginal's Contemporary Situation in Taiwan

Taiwan is an island that has been inhabited by tribal people for thousands of years, but for more than three hundred years it has been controlled by different powers. From 1624 to 1662, it was a Dutch colony. After being defeated by the Chinese troops led by Zhang Chenggong, the Dutch surrendered and the Chinese controlled the island. In 1894, the Manchurian Chinese government lost in the First Sino-Japanese War and ceded to Japan the sovereignty of Taiwan according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed in 1895. It became a Japanese colony until the end of the Second World War in 1945. The Nationalist Government in China took over Taiwan in the same year. As the Nationalists failed to defeat the communists in the civil wars, they fled from mainland China to Taiwan and established the Nationalist government in 1949. The Chinese in Taiwan come from three ethnic groups: Hokkien, Hakka and Mainlander. The aboriginals are divided into two groups: plains dwelling and mountain dwelling. The former were assimilated with Han Chinese and are not regarded as an aboriginal category. The latter ethnic group resisted marriage with Han Chinese and, as a result, their cultural heritage has been preserved. There are fourteen major tribes in Taiwan: Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunun, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma, Ami, Tao, Kavalan, Thao, Seediq, Siraya, and Taroko (or Truku). They have become "migrants" in their own homeland and are seen as second-class citizens by the Han Chinese majority.

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