Welcome to Asia Catalyst’s monthly media roundup.
Public awareness is key to understanding and promoting human rights. Here is this last month’s news reflecting developments for some of the key affected populations that we work with.
On World AIDS Day, The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre, with support from USAID, announced the opening of Asia’s first ever clinic to target health services exclusively to the transgender community. The Tangerine Community Health Center is led by members of the transgender community, and will offer free HIV services, as well as other health services, for the local transgender community.
Channel News Asia. “‘It’s normal to be HIV positive’: Thai trans women join hands to end AIDS.”
Business Standard. “Thai red Cross OpensAsia’s first transgender clinic.”
Pink News. “Asia’s first trans health and support center opens in Bangkok.”
With 450,000 people living with HIV in the country, Thailand has the second highest national HIV prevalence in Asia. Globally, transgender people are disproportionately affected by the epidemic. They face widespread discrimination, violence, and a lack of access to appropriate health care. Transgender individuals also face high instances of discrimination in healthcare settings when seeking HIV services, leading to a dearth of epidemiological data on this key population. These factors contribute to spiking prevalence of HIV infection among the community; the Commission on AIDS in Asia has predicted that, by 2020, transgender women and men who have sex with men (MSM) will together constitute the majority of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region.
In this context, the launch of The Tangerine Community Health Center (Tangerine) is a significant milestone towards ending the HIV epidemic in Asia. Tangerine is being run and led by transgender community members which will ensure services are tailored and will best meet the needs of the community.
According to UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on World AIDS Day, “Inequities can persist when essential services don’t reach the people in need. To change this dynamic, we must quicken the pace of action. We know that strengthening local services to reach key populations will lead to healthier and more resilient societies.” Tangerine is one example of the type of inclusive local service Sidibé is calling for. This effort should be replicated around Thailand, and across the Asia region.
Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam: Positive Step for Transgender Rights.”
Thanh Nien News. “Vietnam recognizes transgender rights in breakthrough vote.”
The Guardian. “Vietnam law change introduces transgender rights.”
Viet Nam’s new law marks a significant although limited advancement of rights for transgender people in the country. Although many transgender people elect to undergo sex reassignment surgery, SRS is a costly and invasive series of medical procedures and not everyone feels surgery is necessary to affirm their gender identity.
By making surgery a mandatory requirement for legal recognition of transgender people’s gender identity, Viet Nam is ignoring individual circumstances and leaving some individuals with the impossible choice between having the newly-legal surgery to have access to correct identity documents, or not having surgery and living with the wrong documents for the rest of their life.
The new requirements will leave many transgender individuals in Viet Nam with identity documents that do not match their gender identity, increasing vulnerability to discrimination in all aspects of life, including housing, employment, education, and access to healthcare services. The conditions imposed by Viet Nam in this regulation violate transgender people’s right to personal autonomy and physical integrity and deny the right to recognition before the law for all.
In revising the law, Viet Nam could be guided by the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The Yogyakarta Principles encourage states to consider measures that allow all people to define their own gender identity, and for that decision not to be predicated on medical procedures.
Following Amnesty International’s endorsement of a draft policy calling for the decriminalization of sex work this summer, dialogue on sex worker rights has been on the rise. This month, Thailand and Myanmar both saw discussions on sex work and sex worker rights.
In Myanmar, a punitive draft law to criminalize sex work was delayed in parliament after an MP argued that the law should protect, not punish, sex workers. InThailand, multiple news stories were published on sex worker organizations and sex worker rights around the country.
Asian Correspondent. “Thailand’s Trans Sex Workers Seek Empowerment Not Pity”
Myanmar Times. “Law Changes Delayed After MP Urges Sex Worker Protections.”
Sex workers are among the most marginalized communities in every country. In Asia, they are highly stigmatized, and experience abuse and discrimination in public and private settings. In the 110 countries where data is available, the HIV prevalence among sex workers is at least 12 times greater than among the general population. Stigma and discrimination, violence, and punitive legal environments are key determinants of this increased abuse and HIV vulnerability.
Recognition of the rights and realities of sex workers in Myanmar and Thailand is thus a small but significant step in increased rights protections for sex workers in Asia. The delay of a law to criminalize sex work in Myanmar is particularly noteworthy. Policy change is a vital step in advancing the rights of this community, but the outcomes of this action remain to be seen. As the Bill Committee considers the objections of the upper house, it should seek a reduction of punitive measures against sex workers in line with Amnesty International’s recommendations.
In Thailand, the sex industry brings about $6.4 billion dollars in annual revenue, accounting for approximately 10 percent of national GDP. Sex work, however, remains criminalized. Public attitudes about sex work remain negative, with many condemning the industry as existing counter to traditional values. Multiple Asian media sources positively highlighting the lives and choices of Thai sex workers this month provide an alternate dialogue. As sex workers are increasingly portrayed in a positive light, public attitudes may shift towards recognizing the humanity—and the human rights—of this key population.