Elizabeth Ann Gray (53) is a Columban Sister from Scotland. She is one of the founding members of Action for Reach out, the first NGO that provides support and services to sex workers in Hong Kong. As a foreigner, Ann not only has to overcome the language barrier, but also other social and cultural boundaries in working frontline with these women, who are being looked upon as outcasts and considered immoral. Over the past 13 years, Ann has serviced and empowered this stigmatized and marginalized group, fostering their self-esteem, and promoting and protecting their basic human rights.
It is the belief that every woman should be treated fairly that has driven the missionary sisters of St. Columban to start the project on sex workers in Hong Kong in the early 90s. Sister Elizabeth Ann Gray (53) was charged with this responsibility and laid solid groundwork for Action for Reach out, the first sex workers’ organization in the territory with the ultimate goal of helping sex workers to form their own support group. “Ever since arriving in Hong Kong, I had wanted to work with this group of women. I saw they were the outcasts of a society in which it was acceptable for a man to go to a prostitute but not for a woman to be a prostitute. They are looked on as the lowest of the low,” Sister Gray wrote in the article "On the Streets of Hong Kong". To facilitate her working in Hong Kong, she studied Cantonese for two years and has now been working with Action for Reach out for the last 13 years. Sister Gray and her colleagues experience embarrassment, rejection and many difficulties in their work. Sister Gray also faces criticism and disapproval from within the Church, where commercial sex workers are considered sinners who should repent. But Sister Gray stays on with patience, courage and persistence, and most importantly with a non-judgmental attitude that builds on acceptance and inclusiveness. Today many sex workers have rebuilt their self-esteem. Many more are aware of their legal rights, and approach Reach out and other organizations for assistance as needed. “These women live at the margin of society. In trying to accompany them in their struggle, I too have experienced being pushed onto the margins of Hong Kong society as I come face to face with the refusal of officials at various levels to address their problems. To my surprise and deep gratitude, this has developed in me a strong sense of the need for solidarity among women,” Sister Gray says.
Action for Reach out