Yuet Lin Yim – Hong Kong

Linked with ‘From the International AIDS Conference IAC‘, with Zi Teng – Hong Kong, and with ‘International Network for Economic Social & Cultural Rights‘.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Sex work is work.”.

Yim Yuet Lin joined the workforce in Hong Kong with only a few years of basic school education. In the late 70s, Yim started to be involved in the labor movement. She saw how workers were exploited and she herself faced unjust treatment from her employer. In 1996, Yim and three other friends founded Ziteng (“Chinese wisteria”), a sex workers’ concern group, which aims to provide support to sex workers.Yim Yuet Lin is a founding member of Ziteng (meaning “Chinese wisteria”), a sex workers concern group in Hong Kong. Since it was established in 1996, Yim has been working with this non-governmental organization, both in good times and in bad. Of the two sex workers’ organizations in Hong Kong, Ziteng is the more vocal one, particularly on issues relating to decriminalization of sex work and police abuses and injustices.

Yuet Lin Yim - Hong Kong rogné.jpg

Yuet Lin Yim – Hong Kong

She works for Ziteng (Chinese wisteria), a Hong Kong-based sex worker’s interest group fighting for the destigmatization and decriminalization of sex.

She is Speakers of the Conference of the Desiree Alliance, with the theme: “Evaluation of the ‘Free Concern’ Policy in Mainland China: The Social, Cultural and Economic Impacts on Sex Workers”.

Born to a poor family from Mainland China, Yim is the eldest sister with three younger sisters and a brother. Her father passed away when she was very small. She began working full time in an electronic factory to support her family when she was 12 before having finished her primary school education. At the age of 26 she joined the labor movement.

It happened after a labor dispute in which she and her colleague demanded compensations and apologies from their employer because of unreasonable dismissal. The incident, according to Yim, helped her to understand how dreadful was the situation workers were bound up in. She realized that although employers were powerful, workers could make changes and get justice if they could learn to fight for their own rights.

Yim first worked as a volunteer for a hotline labor legal service run by a church affiliated center. Soon afterwards, she joined the Industrial Evangelistic Fellowship (IEF) as a full-time staff. From 1979-1989, Yim worked with two NGOs, the IEF and the Christian Industrial Committee (CIC). In CIC, she participated in confrontational actions and protests against government authorities to address workers’ problems. It was in CIC where she learned how to do community and labor organizing work. While working on labor issues, Yim witnessed how poor people suffered because of economic, social and political deprivation. Being a baptized Christian, she became so furious at the suffering that she questioned whether God was blind to injustices in the world. In 1989, she organized the Hong Kong Women Workers Association (HKWWA) seeing how women workers were sidelined by both the mainstream labor movement and the women’s movement. There was virtually no funding support when the organization was first established. Yim was determined and was able to solicit donations from 20 friends to cover her salary and the administrative costs of the organization for a year.

In 1992, Yim made it to the headlines on the issue of the hypocrisy of legislators in addressing the predicaments of women workers. It was only then that HKWWA was being recognized by the mainstream labor groups as a legitimate member of the labor movement. Yim left HKWWA after four years because of internal conflicts and because people feared she was becoming too dominating. In the following year, she went to Taiwan on a scholarship to study theology. After coming back from Taiwan, she joined the Women Christian Council (WCC), a Christian organization that promotes feminist theology and social justice. It was in WCC that Yim developed her concern for sex workers. But the WWC project on sex workers collapsed because of a dispute over leadership of the project. She left WWC and later joined the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU), taking care of the construction workers’ union.

In 1996, Yim and three other friends formed Ziteng, a sex worker concern group. She believes that sex workers’ issues are important because they provide new insights to the social movement. She has been with Ziteng since then.

Yim has been very closely engaged in labor issues, both before and after her work in Ziteng. She was a victim of exploitation before she became a member of NGOs on labor issues. She worked on a wide range of issues, including protection of labor rights and interests, women workers’ rights to maternity leave, improving child-care services, capacity building for unemployed women workers, workers’ right to organize, and protecting sex workers rights and interests.

Yim worked on the decriminalization and de-stigmatization of sex work. Ziteng has been very proactive and vocal in bringing sex workers’ issues to the media and makes significant efforts in eliminating biases and changing public perception of sex workers. Gradually, more people are beginning to use the term “sex workers” instead of “prostitutes”, and agree, “sex work is work”.

Compared to other labor issues, the situation sex workers are in is much more difficult in view of their deep-rooted stigmatization, discrimination and marginalization. The situation is more or less the same as compared to about a decade ago when Yim first worked on this issue. Sex workers are the targets of police crackdown and gangster intimidation. A decade from 1996 when Ziteng was established, sex workers and Ziteng alike face intimidation from police more than other sectors of the society. The sex workers’ rights campaign targets the law enforcement authority that serves both as the one who enforces the discriminative and unjust legislation and the one who personifies this legislation and culture.

From the onset, working for and with sex workers has been both a humanistic involvement and a learning and reflection process for Yim. To stand side-by-side with those who suffer and help address their sufferings is her core conviction. Her strong belief in social justice and equity guides her along. From an outreach worker handling labor disputes to a union organizer, Yim has been good at building personal relationships with partners and target communities, and enhancing their capacity for self-organizing. She acknowledges the importance of a conducive external environment in improving the situation of sex workers, whereby policy advocacy and public education are the major approaches. But direct services that help sex workers in moments of need remain the core programme. Yim contends that outreach work is the most effective means to reach the target community. Without these direct and first-hand contacts, there cannot be good understanding and knowledge on the situation of sex workers.

Yim adopts mainstream strategies such as services delivery and policy advocacy to help improve and protect the rights of sex workers, and explores alternative channels like cultural activism, and popular education to change public perception on sex work. Another distinct feature of her work is to continue engaging with communities that are/used to be hostile to sex work. More so before the mid-90s and still today, the public at large takes sex work as decadent, illegal and immoral, and sex workers are outcasts. Yim however goes fearlessly and directly to the media and other communities to present the alternative view and the reality, asserting the lawful rights of sex workers as legitimate members of society and sex work as a kind of work. Some sectors of the society have been moved and their deep-rooted perception shaken.

As of today, no significant legal reform has been initiated for sex workers despite the growing movement. But there is discussion and awareness on the problems of the existing legislation. Ziteng has been instrumental in bringing the issue of sex work into the discourse of sexuality and gender equity in the local women and feminist movement. Some sex workers have come out from the dark to re-claim their rights. They participated in organizing work. And some form of “sex worker union” is in the making in Hong Kong. Moreover, links with other sex worker groups in the region and the world at large have been built in these years, enhancing understanding and solidarity among sex workers and supporters at the regional and international levels.

If peace is to have justice done wherein one can live in harmony and with respect for each other, then Yim lives most of her life to work for people who are deprived of peace. She has chosen to work with sex workers over the past decade. They are the best example of the worst kind. Her principle on building connections on the personal level is also an important component in peace as it brings forth the humanistic aspect. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

(Han-)Chinese Buddhist Rhetoricization of Legal Politics: Postcolonial discourse on Law Controlling Sex Work in Hong Kong (Congress Paper Abstract), by Dr. Chui Man-Chung, Honourary Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology, University of Hong Kong, and by MS. YIM YUET-LIN, CO-ORDINATOR, ZITENG, HONG KONG.

The law controlling sex work in Hong Kong follows the liberal philosophy advocated by Wolfenden Report and decriminalizes sex trade, although activities related with it (for example: living on the earnings of prostitution or keeping a vice establishment) are criminally sanctioned. As argued by the mainstream feminists in Hong Kong, the legal attitude towards sex work is in fact the reproduction of the dominated patriarchal sexual regulations. Under the system, female sex workers are marginalized and pathologized as they do not belong to any male master, but live like pieces of public commodity and thus become a subversion of the (supposed to be) stable marital-familial politics.

Adopting the Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective, the paper investigates the mechanism by which the male dominating legal system otherizes female sex workers, and reproduces heterosexual male subjectivities. The author would then study how such matrix limits / strengthens Foucauldian desexualization as a legal reform strategy in the socio-legal context of Hong Kong.

With the emphasis of Hong Kong’s particular cultural discourse, the author argues that the legal reform proposal should engage with the indigenous civilization, which is dominated by conventional Confucianism so as to achieve its aims. While Anglo-American common law puts the focus on individual rights, Confucianism stresses the importance of harmonic interpersonal relationship and prostitution was not discriminated or suppressed in Han-Chinese legal history. How this tradition affects the Lacanian psychoanalysis on prostitution and interacts with the reform strategies (for instance, desexualization of law) would be studied in detail. (Read on Press for Change).


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