GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AFFECTS TRANSGENDER PEOPLE AND OTHER KEY POPULATIONS

Written by Hally Mahler, Project Director, LINKAGES, and Rose Wilcher, Director, Research Utilization, FHI 360

This blog post was first featured on the LINKAGES blog in November 2016.


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In 2015, a friend and colleague, Beyonce Karungi, wrote about what it is like to be a transgender woman in Uganda. She talked about being rejected by family members and about being beaten up and burned with cigarettes for being transgender. She described being harassed by police who wanted to make her a “proper man.” She recounted being raped at gunpoint by a client when she was a sex worker, because she insisted that he use a condom. Beyonce wrote that “… from the standpoint of a transgender woman like myself — our human rights and unique challenges are not addressed and not given the attention they deserve.”

Beyonce’s story is not uncommon. Experiences of violence are widespread among key populations: sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs. Here are just a few examples:

This violence can often be traced back to homophobia, transphobia and other rigid beliefs about acceptable behavior for men and women. For example, perpetrators of violence against men who have sex with men often claim that they are attempting to “cure” men who are perceived to have rejected their masculinity. Likewise, transgender people experience violence from those who believe they have not fulfilled expectations associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence from those who believe that experiencing violence is part of what it means to be a woman. Much of the violence that is directed at female sex workers and women who inject drugs is a manifestation of gender inequality and discrimination against women more broadly. But levels of violence against both are exacerbated by the belief that women who sell sexual services or inject drugs are immoral and have strayed from socially acceptable behaviors for women.

A broader understanding of gender-based violence

From November 25 through December 10, individuals and organizations around the world are participating in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign. Every year, this campaign brings attention to the urgent need to eliminate violence against women and girls. But, the campaign is also an opportunity to examine the root causes of gender-based violence and shed light on those who experience such violence but who are not traditionally recognized during the 16 days.

FHI 360’s LINKAGES project promotes an inclusive view of gender-based violence — one that acknowledges that it affects not only women and girls in the “general population,” but also men who have sex with men; transgender individuals; and highly marginalized groups of women, such as sex workers and women who inject drugs. These groups are often omitted from calls to end gender-based violence.

HIV and gender-based violence

Experiences of violence increase the risk of key populations acquiring HIV and deeply affect their desire and ability to obtain health care, get tested for HIV and adhere to HIV treatments. For example, epidemiologic modeling has shown that reducing violence against female sex workers would reduce new HIV infections among sex workers and adults in the general population by 25 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

We will not make sustainable gains against the HIV epidemic if we do not also address the violence that key populations experience at the hands of family, community members, health care providers and police. Here are five ways that everyone who works with key populations can address gender-based and other forms of violence:

  1. Uncover the root causes and gender dimensions of violence against key populations. By conducting gender analyses, as LINKAGES has done in Kenya and Cameroon, we can reveal how gender norms and beliefs underlie much of the violence faced by key populations and identify ways to challenge harmful beliefs and better address such violence.
  2. Support community-led solutions. Community-based organizations headed by members of key populations are taking the lead in delivering the HIV services that their community members want and need, including addressing violence. In addition, outreach workers and peer educators from key population communities can be trained to screen for violence and provide first-line response in line with global best practices.
  3. Work with police and other community power holders so that they become allies in responding to violence and building stronger crisis response systems. Programs must garner commitments from local attorneys, hospital staff, psychologists, peer educators, and police that they will offer client-centered, nonjudgmental services to all survivors of violence, and that they will facilitate key populations’ ability to report violence when it occurs.
  4. Advocate for legal and policy reforms that explicitly protect the human rights of key populations. Even in hostile legal environments, steps can be taken to prevent and respond to violence. For example, we can advocate for the explicit inclusion of sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people in any legislation that is created to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
  5. Draw attention to the science and the stories on the causes, consequences and experiences of gender-based violence among key populations, as well as the evidence-based strategies for addressing such violence. Through the LINKAGES blog series, Key Population Heroes, and our project newsletter, The LINK, we amplify the voices of key population members who have bravely shared their experiences of stigma, discrimination and violence and called on us to join them in fighting for change.

Toward a more inclusive campaign against gender-based violence

Many people think of gender-based violence only in relation to women and girls. But, by developing a more inclusive view, we can help ensure that policies, preventive efforts and response systems benefit all those who experience such violence. Understanding and addressing the broader gender-based aspect of this problem will also allow us to strengthen the networks and combine the resources of the groups that are working to dismantle gender-based discrimination and advance the human rights of all women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities.

During the 16 Days campaign, we will hear from colleagues representing key population communities about how they are affected by gender-based violence and what they are doing about it. We invite you to subscribe to the LINKAGES blog, contribute to the conversation on social media, and join us in advocating for the right of all people to live free from gender-based violence.

Transgender day of remembrance: thoughts from a trans peer educator in Dominican Republic

Interviewee: Macarena Pérez, Transgender Peer Educator, Centro de Promoción y Solidaridad Humana (CEPROSH), Dominican Republic
Interviewer: Betty Alvarez, Consultant, FHI 360


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Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an annual observance on November 20th that honors the memory of lives lost in acts of transphobic violence. On TDOR, LINKAGES is honored to feature the work and perspectives of one of our trans peer educators – Macarena Pérez. Macarena works with CEPROSH in the Dominican Republic to help trans women understand their right to live free of violence and access services if they experience violence. The interviewer, Betty Alvarez, is a LINKAGES consultant based in the Dominican Republic.


What does Transgender Day of Remembrance mean to you?

For me, this is a very important and significant day. Just as there is a day that commemorates the fight against violence suffered by cisgender women, we – the transgender community – deserve a day, too. It makes me proud that there is a day on which members of the global transgender community that have become victims of gender-based violence can be remembered, because we are also an important part of society.

How does your work as a peer educator help prevent violence against transgender people? How does it help ensure transgender people have access to services if they are victims of violence?

Being a peer educator has empowered me and helped me understand the importance of education and training. Being able to share my knowledge and life experiences with my peers has strengthened my own identity as a transgender individual and, in turn, helps my peers empower themselves and know their right to live free of violence.

I teach my peers about important gender-based violence information – including its links with HIV – provided to us by the LINKAGES project and CEPROSH. I explain “La Ruta” (route of available services) and give information about our rights and how to identify violence. The members of my community feel more confident in seeking health and gender-based violence services and demanding that their rights be upheld.

What kind of support is available to transgender people in your community if they become victims of violence? How is this different than the support that was available in the past?

Transgender people in my community have several services available to them if they become victims of gender-based violence. There are a number of clinical and psychological services provided by CEPROSH, the gender-based violence unit of the District Attorney’s Office, the local police, and peer educators like myself. These services have been strengthened and made more friendly to trans women with support from the LINKAGES project. We have more entry doors to free KP-friendly services than ever before.

What do you believe still needs to be done to end gender-based violence?

To end gender-based violence against trans women, we need to do a very big job. We need to create a new generation with a new way of thinking. We need to educate people from a young age to understand that being different is not a bad thing and that being different does not mean that we do not have the right to live free of stigma and discrimination. We have the right to live a dignified live.

How does gender-based violence against transgender people increase their risk of HIV and make it more difficult for them to access health services?

Many trans people are ignorant of their rights. We have been mistreated for so long that many of us are afraid to seek help because we are afraid of being rejected and discriminated against while seeking services. So, after being victims of violence, many transgender people do not go to services on time or do not go at all, increasing their risk of HIV and other physical and mental health complications.

Why is it important for HIV programs to offer violence services?

It is very important for HIV programs to talk about violence because when people go to a workshop or an educational session about violence in the community, they empower themselves and discover their value as a human being. Then they are more willing to seek services, including HIV services, when needed. As a trans woman, I have fought and will keep fighting so these kinds of programs continue to increase empowerment in the trans community and reduce the incidence of violence.

The participation of LINKAGES and partners and HIV clinics in offering gender-based violence services is fundamental for all key populations. Transgender people in Puerto Plata are now able to get stigma-free and cost-free clinical services, like post-exposure prophylaxis, and psychological counseling if they are victims of violence.

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT “REGGIE”: THE IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRATING LGBTQ MESSAGING WITH HIV INFORMATION

Written by Georgia Arnold, executive director and founder of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, and executive producer of the award-winning “edutainment’ campaign, MTV Shuga.

MTV Shuga is a 360 mass media campaign that uses the power of entertainment to generate positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes amongst young people. At the core of MTV Shuga is a TV drama, which follows the lives of a group of young friends as they encounter sexual, social, and educational challenges throughout their adolescent years. Following on from two seasons in Nairobi and another two set in Lagos, the fifth season has been produced in South Africa for the very first time.

The issue of HIV and AIDS among young people is as important today as it has ever been. Every day, 1,300 adolescents around the world are infected with HIV.

In the run-up to National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day on April 10, we are reminded of the need to challenge the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS and empower young people to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health.  One of the ways we can achieve this is by breaking down the taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality.

Across many countries in the world, the idea of sexual activity among young people carries strong negative connotations. Accurate and judgement-free conversations with young people about sexual behaviors or safe sex practices are few and far between, meaning that many teenagers are uninformed and misguided when it comes to sexual health.

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Photo Credit: MTV Shuga

This is particularly true in the case of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community who, in the rare cases where information on sex and sexuality are provided, are often entirely ignored or are described as wrong.

Holding open, in-depth, and inclusive discussions about sexuality is imperative in our efforts to reduce HIV transmission and ensure that those living with HIV have access to care. Such conversations allow us to break down rigid norms attached to young people’s sexual behavior and sexual orientation.

This represents the first, and most important step, in ensuring that all young people feel able to access the necessary information and sexual health services available. After all, you can’t get information that protects you from HIV if you are afraid that your questions about your sexual behavior will be met with discrimination and disdain from your health care provider.

As part of our work on MTV Shuga, we aim to challenge harmful norms by fusing hard-hitting entertainment with important social, sexual health, and educational principles.  In our latest series set in South Africa, a new character Reggie – who is trying to understand his own sexual orientation – represents the medium through which LGBTQ messaging and HIV information can be successfully merged.

In Africa, where MTV Shuga is primarily broadcast, most countries have anti-homosexuality legislation and members of the LGBTQ community are often marginalized. Even in South Africa, where LGBTQ rights are legally enshrined, 55% of LGBTQ people live in fear of discrimination because of their sexual orientation. These data emphasize the need to talk about and create empathy for the “Reggies” of this world, but in a way that is carefully produced to maximize our potential impact.

This is a particularly complex endeavour as we broadcast in countries where LGBTQ storylines are not permissible. Although we cannot change existing laws, we can traverse state borders through our mass-media approach. Making use of digital platforms, such as YouTube, has allowed us to reach those living in places where LGBTQ stories are rarely told, and circumnavigate broadcasting regulations.

Young people face so many challenges throughout their formative years; the added burden of hidden sexual orientation has adverse implications for their health and well-being. We need to create safe spaces where all young people are free to explore who they are, including their sexual orientation, and get the information they need to live healthy and productive lives. While our approach may vary depending on the environment, the end-goal must always remain the same: to challenge harmful norms and affect a positive change in all young people’s sexual lives. Incorporating LGBTQ messaging in a sexual health context is an important way to realize this goal.


For more information on the important work being carried out in the LGBTQ community in South Africa, ANOVA and OUT represent two leading organisations in this field. These groups promote the need to incorporate HIV information with LGBTQ messaging as a means of generating positive sexual health outcomes among South Africans.

 

Commission on the Status of Women & Transgender Women

Written by Beyonce Karungi, Executive Director, Transgender Equality Uganda

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the largest international gathering of governments and civil society dedicated to developing an agenda that promotes progress for women and girls. Each year, the UN brings together women and girls from all over the world to discuss issues that affect women from all spheres of life. Despite the sense of total inclusion, transgender women and girls are often underrepresented in this crucial space. Consequently, the transgender community faces a challenge in raising and addressing the issues specific to them.

The CSW recently emphasized inclusion of transgender people in its sustainable development goals. The discussion surrounding trans inclusion was unprecedented and a major credit to the UN organizers. Hopefully, this discussion continues to provide an ongoing dialogue that will work toward the improvement of the status of all women – including trans women – around the world.

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Beyonce Karungi presenting at a sex worker panel during CSW

I was one of the few transgender women present at the latest CSW. While there, I participated in many forums including development of the UN Women’s Strategic Plan development (2018-2021) at the UN headquarters. We lobbied UN women to include the transgender community in the strategic plan by connecting us with country offices and registering us to participate not only in trans-specific events but also in the main CSW discussions that typically include all women and girls.

At CSW, I also participated in a sex worker session focused on the conditions faced by this key population. Internationally, policy discourse has shifted in many ways to defend sex work as real work. Still, efforts to criminalize clients are unaligned with what sex workers need in order to be able to thrive as workers.

I was also involved in the Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Intersex (LBTI) women’s session. LBTI women are not explicitly mentioned as a vulnerable group in many spaces. This cultural stance and attitude is in large part internalized by LBTI people, which creates a strong obstacle to self-identification. The stigma surrounding LBTI women makes them a socially invisible community within general society. The result is that, with a few exceptions, the most vocal leadership of LBTI women’s rights has traditionally been men.

CSW participants discussed many issues, including peace and security for women and human rights defenders, sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal health, gender-based violence, and family planning. Transgender women and girls continue to be excluded from the economic, political, and social sectors, which limits their access to education, health services, and employment.

While one of the main goals of the CSW is to empower all women and girls, transgender women remain unfairly marginalized.

The CSW needs to ensure that transgender people are represented and that data collection is supported so we can begin to advance the livelihood and well-being of transgender women everywhere. It is within the power of the CSW to include all women in discussions on women’s status in the world, and doing so will increase the awareness and importance of transgender inclusion, health, and rights.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) exists to uphold the voice of sex workers globally and connect regional networks advocating for the rights of female, male, and transgender sex workers. NSWP represents 264 sex-worker-led organizations in 79 countries.

Globally, sex workers of all genders face physical, psychological, and sexual violence. Gender-based violence against sex workers has particularly acute repercussions, given that in many countries, sex workers do not have equal protection under the law and therefore are unable to seek due justice. Perpetrators of violence against sex workers are often:

  • Members of the general population (including state actors) who pose as clients in order to target sex workers
  • People who facilitate sex work and abuse their power—for example, managers, brothel keepers, receptionists, maids, drivers, landlords, and hotels keepers
  • State actors, including police and health care providers.
  • Anti-sex-work organizations that seek to “rehabilitate” sex workers and work with the police to “raid and rescue” sex workers and their children

Issues faced by sex workers vary from region to region depending on laws and social and cultural contexts. One common issue faced by all sex workers is their vulnerability to and experience of violence.

Violence against sex workers in Kenya drew international attention when Philip Onyancha confessed to murdering 17 sex workers in the town of Thika in 2010. Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Program (BHESP) led demonstrations to highlight the violence and to demand justice. More recently, the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance drew attention to the murders of sex workers in Nakuru County, while NSWP drew attention to the mass arrest and mandatory testing of Kenyan sex worker in Kisii County in 2015.

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Key populations fight erasure during High Level Meetings on Ending AIDS in New York. Photo Credit: MSMGF

Transgender Europe (TGEU) tracks violence against transgender people in Europe. According to TGEU a majority of the transgender people murdered in Europe in 2016 were sex workers. This year, NSWP highlighted the high levels of violence faced by transgender sex workers in Turkey. NSWP called for urgent action to uphold the human rights of male, female, and transgender sex workers in their country. However, transgender sex workers in Turkey still face on-going violence with little or no protection from the law. On 12 August 2016, Hande Kader was murdered, which drew international attention to the extreme violence faced by transgender people in Turkey.

Sex workers also experience stigma and discrimination when their voices are disregarded or when they are silenced as they speak about the realities of their lives to the media, programmers, and policymakers. People often assume to know what is in the best interests of sex workers, without meaningfully consulting sex workers themselves. When sex workers are silenced or disregarded in the development of policies and programmes that directly affect their lives, it leads to policies and practices that are harmful to sex workers and is a form of violence against marginalized populations. For example, this year at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, member states adopted a political declaration that did not meaningfully include key populations, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, LGBT people, and people in prisons. NSWP wrote a joint statement documenting the devastating effects of this exclusion.

NSWP calls on those who fight gender-based violence to support the global sex workers movement on the 17 December, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Reducing Gender-Based Violence Against Women Who use Drugs: The Right to be Free

Written by Judy Chang, Board Member, International Network of People who use Drugs

Globally, it is estimated that one out of three women experiences gender-based violence (GBV) in her lifetime. Data on women who use drugs and their experiences of violence are scarce; this is not surprising given our status as an invisible population. As a result of criminalization, discrimination, and stigmatization, women who use drugs are disproportionately affected by violence. Women who use drugs commonly experience violence at the hands of state actors, notably the police, and when violence comes from intimate partners and the wider community, it is often perpetrated with impunity.

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Tanzanian Network of People who use Drugs. Photo by Ruth Birgin.

GBV against women who use drugs manifests as a result of a range of interrelated structural, systemic, and sociocultural drivers. Our experiences of GBV are both driven and compounded by stigma and discrimination and inequality. In 2015, the International Network of Women Who Use Drugs (INWUD), along with Women and Harm Reduction International Network, released a statement for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The statement included a number of testimonials from women who use drugs and have been affected by violence. One woman shared her story.

“The insidious creep of abuse of domestic violence makes it hard to speak out. But when police fail to act on a charge, it becomes a double act of injustice. The neighbours called the police to my house, after I had just gone through a window. Under questioning he [my partner] told the police officer I was a drug user. Tearful and shaken, I found the tables turned on me. Rather than pursue a clear case of domestic violence, he chose to search me for drugs. It only took those two little words of ‘drug user’ for the police officer to see me not as a victim of domestic violence, but as a woman not deserving of equal protection under the law. At a time when I felt the most broken, I had to bear the force of a broken system which treats women who use drugs as undeserving of the same rights as other women.” (INWUD Virtual Consultation, 2015)

Our current value system that embraces prohibition places an inordinate amount of focus and effort on regulating and controlling what a woman puts into her body, rather than what is being inflicted on her body, more often than not by those with more power. Driven by political ideology and moral attitudes, the damage that the war on drugs wages on women’s bodies needs a political solution. INPUD argues that community organizing, community mobilization, and solidarity building remain the most effective and protective barriers against abuses and violations. Historically, we have seen these used as political tools to make critical gains in labor rights, civil rights, liberties, and in the HIV movement.

Ruth Birgin, INPUD’s Women’s Policy Officer has been catalyzing women who use drugs in countries in Asia and across Africa. She has been working with women from national drug user networks and supporting them to come together, develop plans and strategies to meet their community-defined needs, and create mechanisms for collective support. In Indonesia, for instance, INPUD supports the activities of PKNI, the national drug user network, that contributes to broader goals of increasing understanding and awareness of violence against women who use drugs and developing elements of protection. In Tanzania, INPUD’s Women’s Policy Officer is coordinating with women from the Tanzanian Network of People who use Drugs (TANPUD), who will be running their own activities, including a public event on December 10. A women’s advocacy team comprised of TANPUD members has been formed.  They are currently developing a statement on violence against women who use drugs, which is to be presented to the Ministry of Community Development Gender and Children on the 2016 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The upcoming years are crucial. As we prepare for increasing onslaughts on the rights of women worldwide—including sexual and reproductive health rights, the right to bodily integrity and self-determination, and the right to be free from violence and sexual assault—women who use drugs need to come together to organize and strengthen our networks and communities. This is the first, crucial step to challenging damaging political realities. Now more than ever, the status quo will no longer suffice.


Judy Chang (MIntDev) is a board member of INPUD; a consultant with Coact, which is a technical support agency specializing in HIV and drug use; and an MPhil Candidate at the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) in Australia.

INPUD is a global peer-based organization that seeks to promote the health and defend the rights of people who use drugs. INPUD challenges stigma, discrimination, and criminalization of people who use drugs and the impact they have on the drug-using community’s health and rights. The International Network of Women Who Use Drugs is a subnetwork comprised of those who self-identify as women and who use drugs.