Researching Non-Governmental Strategies for Male Sex Workers' Empowerment in Northern Thailand
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This paper reports the methodological insights derived from a research trip undertaken to study the existing non-governmental strategies for male sex workers? empowerment in Northern Thailand. My research was concerned with determining whether NGOs can effectively provide an alternative to the governmental programs, in order to meet the needs of Thai male sex workers. Although the topic of sex work in Thailand has been highly debated and analyzed, it remains a very sensitive subject, especially because of the perceived correlation between prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since male sex workers (commonly referred to as MSW), represent a relatively small percentage of the total number of sex workers in Thailand, most efforts and resources so far, both governmental and non-governmental, have been directed at higher risk populations, such as children and females, particularly those in Bangkok. To compensate for the lack of information on male sex workers, I decided to research the strategies put forth by Mplus, the main NGO committed to support the MSW community in Northern Thailand. In May-June 2008, I traveled to Chiang Mai to conduct interviews with the staff of Mplus; I also participated in some of their outreach activities and made observations on their future action plan.I was generally impressed by the nature of their activities, especially the incredible access they have to male sex workers in bars and saunas, and I believe one of their main contributions to sex workers? empowerment is the Mplus Clinic and anonymous healthcare and referral systems. However, to my disappointment the English classes are not as important anymore among the empowerment activities of Mplus. This report is meant to summarize the rest of my findings, outline the challenges encountered during the research process and explore how these lessons will inform the fieldwork of future NGO personnel and human rights activists in Chiang Mai.