Asia Catalyst

It has been just over one hundred days since the unexpected passing of activist and pioneer Andrew Hunter. As the human rights community comes to terms with the profound loss of a passionate and dedicated leader among its ranks, Asia Catalyst Capacity Building and Community Initiatives Director Gisa Dang takes a moment to reflect on a life well lived. 

In Celebration of Andrew
By Gisa Dang

"There's a common assumption that laws against trafficking must be good because they must protect the most vulnerable people," begins a commanding quote from Andrew Hunter in this tribute video. The video was lovingly crafted by Andrew's partner Dale for a recent commemorative ceremony at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Just over 100 days after Andrew's passing, we are grateful to be reminded again of the many faces of Andrew Hunter: his humor, his candor, his mentorship, his love of Hello Kitty, his activism. Most of all, we remember his conviction to speak truth to power, to not back down, and to smartly question the common assumptions and rhetoric, the jargon to which one can easily succumb. 

I have learned many lessons from Andrew, both from his presentations and his actions. He taught me to listen to the voices of marginalized communities themselves. Not to assume, not to quote others' assumptions, but to go out, ask questions, and listen.

I remember a conversation I had with Andrew a few years back, when I was translating for him at the China Sex Worker Organization Network annual meeting. We were brainstorming ways to bring sex workers and the organizations that were providing services for sex workers closer together. Andrew stopped abruptly. The problem with the conversation we were having, he said, was the language we were using. 

"What kind of program do you want from us?" was the question we had been asking participants. 

"It's not about programs", Andrew told me. "The problem lies with how you're asking your questions. Don't constrain yourself to think in programs only, programs should be a response."

If only Andrew knew how significant this conversation would prove to be in my approach to our work for years to come. He may have assumed that it was just another casual conversation, to be forgotten the next morning, the next week, the next month.

So, here's to reminding ourselves that common assumptions are just that. We should always question our assumptions and formulate our approaches to follow and foster community leadership based on their perspective. 

I want to say "rest in peace, Andrew" - but I know that's not your style. 

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For world health day, Asia Catalyst called for attention to the situation of medical discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in Asia. Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS in India, joins in the call with his guest blog post (below). Anand Grover is pictured to the left. 

The Highest Attainable Standard of Health 
By Anand Grover 

World Health Day, which falls on April 7 every year, is a chance to highlight the hurdles which stand between us and the goal of universal realization of "the highest attainable standard of health."

There are nearly 5 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in Asia, and great improvements have been made in providing support to them.  However, discrimination against these people exists at all levels of life: private, public, places of employment, and even places of medical treatment. Routinely across Asia, health care settings--which are supposed to be dependable life-lines for people living with HIV/AIDS--often end up preventing individuals from accessing life-saving treatment for their disease, for fear of public backlash. 

In a six-country study in Asia, of 228 women surveyed, more than 70 percent said they had been asked or encouraged to have a sterilization procedure. This pattern of discrimination is especially prominent among marginalized populations, such as people who use drugs, sex workers, and transgender persons, who regularly identify lack of confidentiality, discrimination and negative attitudes from healthcare providers, and fears of being identified to the public as barriers to their healthcare. 

Because of this well-documented discrimination, many people living with HIV/AIDS avoid clinics and hospitals, despite needing access to medical services. 

For those who do try to seek treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS across Asia are regularly turned away by hospitals after seeking medical services. One reason for this is public ignorance. In many places, the general public will not return to a hospital if they believe it is an "AIDS hospital." Medical discrimination not only endangers the lives of PLWHA, it also violates their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and increases the stigmatization towards HIV/AIDS. Shame and fear of discrimination from healthcare providers drives PLWHA far underground, to the point where even those who were once willing to receive treatment become unwilling to seek key HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. 

This fuels the epidemic.

The underlying reasons for medical discrimination are varied. Many countries have laws and policies which are meant to protect PLWHA from discrimination. Yet these laws have serious gaps in implementation. 

One factor that is often ignored is the lack of training on HIV/AIDS for health care professionals in Asia. It is widely assumed that healthcare providers have knowledge about HIV/AIDS, but statistics show that they often lack fundamental knowledge on the disease. 

The occupational safety of health care providers should be of high concern here. For example, a survey conducted among 60 clinical staff in one Asian country found that most did not wear protective glasses. This was largely because they were not equipped with them. Making headway on this, in 2013 China added occupational exposure to HIV as an occupational injury disease. Other countries should follow suit and step up the pace of providing safe working environments for health care workers and enabling the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. 

Forging an inclusive healthcare system, where the most marginalized individuals receive treatment necessary to contain their disease and halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, is key to making progress in global health goals. The current situation is meandering slowly, bogged down by erroneous public perceptions. In the meanwhile, the repercussions of inaction are measured in lives lost to a disease that science can, all discrimination aside, treat. 

World Health Day, which falls on April 7 every year, is a chance to highlight the hurdles which stand between us and the goal of universal access to "the highest attainable standard of health." For nearly 5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific today, this goal can seem like a distant dream. 

This infographic can help you get an idea of the medical discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS face in Asia today. 

Asia Catalyst on France 24 news

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Asia Catalyst's Advocacy Director Shen Tingting was featured on France 24 news this week!

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The news segment is an exposé on the human rights violations of China's C&E system. Asia Catalyst is glad to see international attention being given to the situation of Custody and Education in China. 

To watch the newscast on C&E in English, and to listen to a dedicated AC staff member talk about our work, click here

To watch the piece in French, click here

Last week Asia Catalyst signed a petition to the World Health Organization to bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues to the forefront of the next WHO Executive Board Meeting, happening May of 2014. You can read the letter for yourself below. Or, to see the original, click here

World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27

February 28, 2014

Dear Madam Director General:

We, the undersigned civil society organizations from all regions of the world, respectfully write to you today to show our support for the complicated work you have undertaken of finding consensus on how to discuss issues related to access to health for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. We are dismayed that the topic has become so contentious and difficult to discuss, but we write to encourage you to persevere and bring these very important and appropriate health concerns to the work of the World Health Organization. 

We represent a variety of health, HIV, human rights, and LGBT organizations which all work in some manner on the real impact of discrimination against individuals based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. This discrimination is rampant in all of our societies, despite differences of culture, economics, politics, or legal status of homosexuality. Such discrimination directly impacts the health outcomes of these communities. Whenever any group of people--no mater how marginalized--experience disparate health outcomes, that is of legitimate interest to the WHO and deserves to be studied and understood fully. We appreciate that you have personally taken the time to ensure that the Executive Board of the WHO will address these issues appropriately. 

As you know, reports from every region of the world show that LGBT citizens lack equal access to health care, and experience real discrimination based on exposing their sexual orientation, sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, or bodily diversity in health care settings. Such discrimination takes many different forms including outright denial of services, harassment, embarrassment, violence and arrest, as well as internalized stigma and shame. Such experiences lead directly and indirectly to bad health outcomes, such as higher incidents of depression, drug and alcohol use, lack of HIV prevention and treatment, and even suicide. Cancer-related health disparities for lesbian women have been indicated in a variety of studies, and transgender individuals receive particularly poor or no appropriate health services specific to their needs. 

We write today to encourage continued dialogue and discussion of these important health matters, and to make sure that the item does not get permanently postponed or deleted from the agenda of the Executive Board. We further urge the Secretariat of WHO to engage in further study and research on the health outcomes for LGBT communities in all parts of the world, since a disproportionate amount of existing data comes from Global North countries. It is imperative that the WHO encourage thoughtful and unbiased study in all regions of the world.

This is an important moment in the evolution of global health to address the particular health challenges of LGBT populations.  This is indeed a critical next step for WHO to help improve the vital and universal access to health for LGBT people. 

Should there be anything we can do to support this effort, please let us know.

With respect and hope for a healthier world,

[Asia Catalyst]

[NEWS] Asia Catalyst is hiring!

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Are you a self-starter with a passion for social justice and rule of law? Do you want to become an active part of a fast-paced organization? Are you highly organized and good at communicating new ideas to others? We may have the perfect position for you!

Asia Catalyst is seeking an Administrative Assistant in our Beijing office. The position is full time and applicants must have strong spoken and written Mandarin and English. For full information on this opportunity, check out the job posting. 

If you think this position may be the one for you, email the following in English: a brief cover letter, résumé, and contact details for two references to: Brian Bonci at 

We look forward to hearing from you! No calls, please. 

By Charmain Mohamed

China will mark this year's International Women's Day by continuing to arbitrarily detain thousands of women and girls in Custody and Education (C&E) centers across the country. In place since the 1980s, C&E is an administrative penalty system targeting commercial sex workers and their clients. In the name of 'education' and 'rescue,' sex workers and their clients can be detained for periods of six months to two years, without any form of judicial oversight, appeal, or redress. While in custody, women are subjected to forced unpaid labor and compulsory testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

While China has placed extraordinary emphasis on legal reform in recent years, the approach has not been uniform. On November 15, 2013 the Chinese government announced it would abolish Reeducation Through Labor (RTL). This arbitrary detention system, in effect since the 1950s, was used as a form of administrative punishment for "minor offences," including drug addiction, petitioning, advocating for human rights, or membership of "illegal" religions such as a Christian house church or Falun Gong. While the government dismantles 60 years of RTL, C&E remains in effect.

International experience demonstrates that punitive laws and their implementation have a negative impact on the health and situation of sex workers, and are a contributory factor in fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In China, police use possession of condoms as evidence of sex work. This has led to decreased condom use in what is a high risk marginalized group for HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, C&E is failing to meet the government's stated aim to eradicate or decrease the number of people engaged in sex work.  Asia Catalyst interviews with female sex workers in 2013 showed that all the women returned to sex work after release from C&E.

The last several months in China have seen 'vice raids' across the country aimed at cracking down on sex work. The result, however, has been the public humiliation, arrest and detention of hundreds more--largely female--sex workers. On International Women's Day, the Chinese government should look towards implementing a less punitive and more holistic approach to promoting and protecting the rights of sex workers. Decriminalizing sex work and abolishing C&E is the natural next step for a government promoting legal reform. Providing voluntary, quality, and evidence-informed health care, including for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, should already be on their agenda.


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The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs is looking for a partner organization from Hong Kong or mainland China to help implement their Young Leaders for Women's Empowerment program. In the program, early to mid-career level participants will have the opportunity to pitch a project design, develop the project at group workshops, and then implement it in their home communities.


Attached is the official request for proposals for the Young Leaders for Women's Empowerment program. NDI is seeking applications that share the values of gender equality, equal representation and voice in government, and are interested in bridging Hong Kong and the mainland.


If you or your organization is interested in implementing the program and working collaboratively with NDI on program design, see the link for more information. Proposals are due via email by 31 March 2014.




[UPDATE] Asia Catalyst Newsletter

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                                                           Ending Arbitrary Detention for Sex Workers

Asia Catalystpic 2.jpg released the report Custody and Education: Arbitrary Detention for Female Sex Workers in China on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2013. This landmark report, the first of its kind, compiled original research and testimony to detail China's arbitrary detention and abuse of female sex workers. Asia Catalyst presented the findings and recommendations of the report at several diplomatic and press events in Beijing and the report was covered extensively by the international media, including coverage  by the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and China's Global Times. The report also prompted debate within China's legal community, and addressing the Custody and Education system has now become a priority issue for the Chinese Government/Civil Society Platform on HIV/AIDS, and The Red Ribbon Forum. The report is available in Chinese and English.

                                                                   Medical Discrimination

On December 20, 2013, Asia Catalyst organized a conference to bring together government officials, health care professionals, lawyers, scholars, and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) to discuss both the relationship between medical discrimination against (PLWHA) and the occupational safety of health care workers and also strategies to address medical discrimination amongst health professionals. The conference, which was titled "HIV and Occupational Safety and Health," was the result of a collaborative process between Asia Catalyst, the International Labour Organization, the Red Ribbon Forum, the Women's Network Against HIV/AIDS China, and the China CBO Network.

More than 70 participants attended the conference, including 20 health care workers from two general hospitals in Henan and Anhui provinces and 30 PLWHA. This ground-breaking conference provided, for the first time, a valuable opportunity for health care workers and PLWHA to communicate with each other and discuss concerns around the occupational safety of health care workers as a cause for medical discrimination. Two doctors who had experienced occupational exposure to the HIV virus, as well as a young man from Tianjin who only received life-saving surgery after modifying his medical documents to remove his HIV status, shared their personal experiences.

Capacity Building

                                                          Cohort 2012 and 2013 evaluation

In 2013, Asia Catpic 3.jpgalyst concluded implementation of the two year pioneering Nonprofit Leadership Cohort program, which built organizational management skills for ten community-based organization (CBO). The graduates completed their training in mid-2013. Three graduates are going on to become certified as trainers to lead their own Nonprofit Leadership Cohort-style initiatives. This milestone of completing the first two years of Cohort programming prompted the first independent external evaluation of the Cohort. Ms. Shirley Lin, formerly of PACT China, undertook a comprehensive assessment by interviewing all Cohort graduates and staff. Her findings confirmed that Cohort graduates demonstrated improvement in the six skill areas proposed by the project including strategic planning, advocacy, fundraising, program management, and volunteer and risk management. They showed remarkable success in designing and implementing their own projects; and were able to develop targeted advocacy goals and feasible strategies to create change for their communities. The results of the assessment show increases in the effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, and sustainability of the participants' organizations. Graduates shared their knowledge and skills not only within their own organizations, but also facilitated capacity building and skills sharing for at least 65 of their peer organizations.

                                                             Cohort 2014 initiation

Asia Catalyst commenced a new Cohort round in November 2013 with a grant from the Ford Foundation, China Office. We received eight-eight applications from over twenty provinces of China, demonstrating the increased profile and reach of our organization. Asia Catalyst staff selected ten organizations as participants for the new Cohort program following applications, interviews, and reference reviews. The selected  participants come from diverse backgrounds but all have a focus on the right to health; working with marginalized communities including people living with HIV/AIDS, Men who have Sex with Men and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* groups; as well as one participant whose organization works on Pulmonary Hypertension.

On December 15-18, 2013, the representatives of these ten selected groups attended the first training workshop in Bangkok. As in the previous year, three Assistant Trainers were selected based on applications from Cohort graduates. The Assistant Trainers facilitated parts of the workshop and received additional instruction in advance. Two of the Assistant Trainers had strong backgrounds in advocacy and we are looking forward to providing more local advocacy examples to our Cohort members.

                                                                   Bi-monthly calls

In a new initiative, Asia Catalyst facilitated the first of a series of bi-monthly coaching calls for current and previous program participants. Twenty-one individuals representing twenty-one organizations participated in the online meeting, which was conducted via private chat room. Asia Catalyst's goal was to give active individuals an opportunity to facilitate one of the subsequent calls, which would help them hone their communication skills. The conversation for this first call concentrated on experience and skill sharing about finding new cooperation partners, building good media relationships, and sharing the situation of participants' organizations.

                                                                   New Partnerships

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In October 2013, Asia Catalyst delivered a one-day strategic planning workshop for fifteen recipient organizations of the Global Fund program in Guangdong Province. A staff member from Guangdong Association of STD & AIDS Prevention and Control (GASAPC) who had previously participated in an Asia Catalyst workshop in Guangzhou, approached  Asia Catalyst directly to request this bilateral assistance. The workshop happened at a time when the Global Fund, the sole donor for most of the fifteen participating organizations, had closed their funding program to China. The Asia Catalyst facilitation therefore concentrated on having participants practice ways in which to meet their program and activity goals, as well as mapping potential new resources to cope with financial losses. Asia Catalyst also conducted a project management workshop for twenty grantee organizations of the China Social Welfare Foundation at the end of October. This workshop was based on an ongoing relationship with the China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI). Participants were from organizations that focus on the development of children and elderly people, in both rural and urban areas. As a result of the training, most participants were able to name differences between "activities"and "projects" and to build strong links between their activities and their overall organizational objective. As more and more organizations begin to adopt tools developed by Asia Catalyst, we aim to raise our profile and contribute to a sustainable social and nonprofit sector in China.

The Big Question: Which Country Will Emerge as the Leading Power?

Our China Program Director, Gisa Dang, gave her opinion about this topic in the Winter issue of World Policy Journal and soon it will be your turn!  World Policy Journal has begun to plan a twitter chat regarding this big question. Scheduling is still in the works, but we will update you on the details very soon.