China, Taiwan: Kun Lei

It is an honor to be able to speak up, for all of us.

— Kun Lei

Lei Kun (a pseudonym) began her transformative journey from sex worker to sex worker activist in 1997, when the Taipei City government decided to abolish licensed prostitution and declared its more than 120 licensed prostitutes illegal. She has transformed sex work into social movement activism.

At 64, Lei Kun is no longer a sex worker. She decided to fight for the collective survival of sex workers, demanding that they be given the right to live and work in peace and with dignity. As a girl, Lei Kun was undervalued and not given an education. She then had a bad marriage ending in divorce. Without family resources or an education, a single mother with two children, she finally turned to sex work. Lei Kun had already planned to retire after paying the mortgage on her home. But when she saw how the new policy affected some of her sex worker colleagues in Taipei, driving many to hunger and suicide, she decided to fight and join her co-workers in their struggle. Through seeing her own development as a process of empowerment, she came to understand the kinds of structural injustices that kept the poor and the marginal downtrodden and stigmatized. The Taipei licensed prostitutes' struggle brought about a two-year respite before sex work was finally made legal again. Afterwards, she suffered from breast cancer. But no sooner had she recovered from the operation that she was back in action. On April 30, 1999, the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (Coswas) was founded with the collaboration of the existing Datong Area Licensed Prostitutes Cooperative, two women's labor groups and other supporters of the licensed prostitutes' movement. Lei Kun actively took part in the organization and quickly took on a leadership role as a sex worker activist. Her work and energy has been an inspiration for Taiwan's sex workers, as well as for other social movements and activists.

Collevtive of Sex Workers and Supporters (Coswas)