Inter Press Service » LGBTQ http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 16:25:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 “Hate Group” Inclusion Shows UN Members Still Divided on LGBT Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/hate-group-inclusion-shows-un-members-still-divided-on-lgbt-rights/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 17:14:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149488 Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

A group designated as a hate group for its “often violent rhetoric” against LGBTI rights was an invited member of the United States Official Delegation to the annual women’s meeting say rights groups.

C-FAM – one of the invited members of the United States official delegation to the meeting – has been designated as an Anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center “for its often violent rhetoric on LGBTQI rights” according to the International Women’s Health Coalition, who opposed the appointment.

Including C-Fam on the US delegation reflects ongoing disagreement between UN member states – and even within UN member states domestically – about the importance of including LGBTI rights within the UN’s work.

For the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) community, there were many reasons to come to this year’s annual women’s meeting with “battle scars,” and “eyes open” says Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

In a statement issued in response to C-Fam’s appointment to the US delegation, Stern said described C-Fam as an organisation with a “violent mentality” and said that “it is essential that the US uphold American values and prevent all forms of discrimination at the CSW” and that “the US government must ensure protection for the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Globally LGBTI people are among those most vulnerable to discrimination, violence and poverty.  Yet explicit references to LGBTI rights continue to be left out of major UN documents, including the annual outcome document of the CSW, Stern told IPS.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people," -- Pepe Julien Onzema

“The agreed conclusions of the CSW have never in all of its history ever made explicit reference to sexual orientation, gender identy or intersex status so that’s decades of systematic exclusion,” she told IPS.

“What we’re asking is that our allies in government and our allies in different civil society movements understand that we need them to stand up for and with us in demanding inclusive references to our needs.”

However Stern said that she was also “very happy to say” that there is ”extraordinarily strong representation of LBTI rights” in side events at the year’s meeting, which each year brings thousands of government and non-government representatives to New York.

LBTI representatives at this year’s meeting included Pepe Julien Onzema, a trans male Ugandan activist who was a presenter at a non-government side event on Wednesday.

Onzema told IPS that although he has seen some open-mindedness in including trans people in the feminist movement internationally that there are still some challenges.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people,” but Onzema added that thinks that there is still “a lot of work to do.”

“Even we as activists we are still looking at each others’ anatomy to qualify people for these spaces.”

However Onzema who was attending the CSW for the first time said that he had felt welcomed at the meeting:

“I’m receiving warmth from people who know I am trans, who know I am from Uganda,” he said.

The Ugandan government’s persecution of the Ugandan LGBTI community has received worldwide attention in recent years. International organisations both for and against LGBTI rights have also actively tried to influence the domestic situation in the East African nation.

The US Mission to the United Nations could not immediately be reached for comment on the inclusion of C-Fam in the US delegation.

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“The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/the-struggle-continues-for-human-right-to-peace-and-inclusion-of-women/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 20:07:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149456 CSW61_Banner-EN_

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13.

At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and development.

“Without peace, no development is possible. And without development, no peace is achievable. But without women, neither peace nor development is possible,” said Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury.

Despite this, panelists noted that societies have long ignored women’s contributions.

According to an Oxfam report, women carry out up to 10 times more unpaid care work than men. This work is worth approximately $10 trillion per year, which is more than the gross domestic products (GDPs) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.

Research has also shown that almost 60 million unpaid workers are filling in the gaps caused by inadequate health services, majority of whom are women who have had to give up employment or education to carry out this role.

Chowdhury added that there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world if women had the same access to resources as men.

Panelists were particularly concerned with the lack of formal recognition of the human right to peace and the inclusion of women in this goal.

Canadian activist Douglas Roche explained the ‘human right to peace’ arose to address new “interconnected” challenges that the current human rights framework, which is based on a relationship between the State and the individual, is unable to do, including increased militarism by both State and non-State entities.

During the panel discussion, UN Independent Expert in the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas stated that the human right to peace also allows for the realization of the right to self-determination which is a “crucial conflict prevention strategy.”

After decades of struggling to gain consensus, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace in December. Though it was a significant accomplishment achieved largely due to a civil society initiative, many have expressed their disappointment in the document.

“The new declaration is falling far short of the expectation of civil society, many governments,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Among concerns about the declaration is its lack of reference to women which is only mentioned once in the 6 page document.

President of Hague Appeal for Peace and long time peace activist Cora Weiss criicised the document’s language, which calls for women’s “maximum participation.”

“It’s a slippery word,” she told participants, stressing the importance of “equal” inclusion of women to achieve peace.

Weiss was a national leader of the Women Strike for Peace, which organised the largest national women’s protest of the 20th century and contributed to the end of nuclear testing in the 1960s. She was also helped lead the anti-Vietnam war movement, including organising one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in 1969.

“There is no limit to the relationship between women and peace,” Weiss said.

Chowdhury, who led the initiative on Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Women at the peace table is a very important element at the UN and at the Security Council to take into account. Unless they value the 50 percent of humanity positively contributing to securing peace and security, it will move nowhere.”

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325, little has been done to enforce and implement it. No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

Panelists also criticised the absence of language around disarmament in the Declaration.

“How are you going to make peace in a world that is awash with weapons?” Weiss asked.

According the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and are owned by just nine countries. The Arms Control Association (ACA) estimates a higher inventory of 15,500, 90 percent of which belong to Russia and the United States. Almost 2000 of these warheads are on high alert and are ready to launch within minutes, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.

More general military spending also continues to dwarf resources provided to development activities including education.

In 2014, global military spending was approximately 1.8 trillion dollars while 26 billion dollars was provided to achieve education for all by the end of 2015.

Zayas highlighted the need to redirect resources used for war to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address other pressing socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

Chowdhury also told participants that a resolution on peace cannot and should not be adopted by vote.

“Peace is the ultimate goal of the UN,” he said.

The Declaration was approved with 131 vote for, 34 against, and with 19 abstentions, reflecting a lack of consensus on the subject.

Though he expressed fear that progress towards gender equality may be rolled back due to a reversal in trends, Chowdhury said the struggle will continue until the human right to peace is recognized and implemented.

CSW is the largest inter-governmental forum on women’s rights, bringing together civil society, academia, and governments. This year’s theme is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

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Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/travel-restrictions-cast-shadow-on-un-womens-meeting-rights-groups/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:27:56 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149442 A view of the General Assembly Hall during the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Stats of Women (CSW). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A view of the General Assembly Hall during the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Stats of Women (CSW). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups.

The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday.

Although the Executive Order has not been re-enacted, women’s rights groups perceive that organising internationally is becoming more difficult. They report that some potential delegates were surprised that they were unable to obtain U.S. visas for the UN meeting; others were worried about increasingly strict treatment at U.S. airports; while others were prevented from travelling by their home countries.

The annual Commission on the Status of Women is usually one of the most vibrant and diverse meetings at UN headquarters in New York with hundreds of government ministers and thousands of delegates attending from around the world.

Sanam Amin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) told IPS that two members of the group’s delegation from from Bangladesh and Nepal, countries that “are not listed in the first or second version of (Trump’s travel) ban,” were unable to obtain visas.

“Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials,” said Amin.

Amin also said that she had “been in contact with UN Women in Bangladesh, in Bangkok (ESCAP) and in New York over the visa refusal issue,” for weeks before the meeting, trying to find a solution.

“Those who were refused were expected by us to speak or participate in our side events and meetings with partner organisations and official delegations.” The APWLD, is an NGO which has accreditation with the UN Economic and Social Chamber.

Others unable to attend the event include a youth activist from El Salvador who on Wednesday participated in a side-event she had been meant to speak at, via video. Meanwhile women’s rights activists Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman from Egypt were unable to attend because the Egyptian government has prevented them from leaving the country

"Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials," -- Sanam Amin.

Representatives from civil society having difficulties obtaining visas to travel to attend UN meetings in the United States pre-dates the current Trump-Republican Administration. The U.S. Department of State advised IPS that it could not comment on individual visa cases. However while there are many potential reasons why visas may be refused, several groups perceive travel becoming more difficult in 2017.

“It’s incredibly ominous to have women’s rights activists feel like the revised executive order and overall hate rhetoric from the Trump administration makes them feel unsafe coming to this CSW and that is what we have heard,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International told IPS.

“We’ve heard women’s rights activists say that they worried about how they would be treated at U.S. borders and airports. We heard LGBTI activists who were coming to this meeting also worry about their own safety.”

Both Stern and Amin expressed concern about the implications and meanings of the travel ban, even though the courts have continued to keep it on hold, because even the revised ban, specifically restricts travel for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“The ban text even cites violence against women – in section one – in the six countries as reason to ‘not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred’,” said Amin.

“In fact, it (would restrict) civil society from those very countries from participating in events such as CSW. Instead, their governments are emboldened to take more regressive positions on women’s human rights, and the U.S., with its Global Gag Rule among other anti-women policies, is taking its place side-by-side with the very countries it has targeted with the ban,” she said.

Stern added that the theme of this year’s CSW – the economic empowerment of women – should not be a politicised issue.

“(It) should be a non-partisan issue that every government in the world can get behind because every government has a vested interest in the eradication of poverty and national economic development and we know that women are the majority of the world’s poor and so if you empower women economically than you empower families communities and nations,” said Stern.

She emphasised the importance of the meeting as a global forum for people who are actively working for gender justice around the world to speak with governments.

At the CSW “thousands of activists for women’s rights and gender justice (speak) with every government of the world to say what struggles they have from their own governments and the kind of accountability that they expect from the international system,” says Stern.

The rights organisations sponsoring the No Borders on Gender Justice campaign include: MADRE, Just Associates (JASS), Center for Women’s Global Leadership, AWID, Urgent Action Fund, Women in Migration Network and OutRight Action International.

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The United Nations and the Religious Right​http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%25e2%2580%258b http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:30:46 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149156 Tolerance. Credit: Rebecca/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Tolerance. Credit: Rebecca/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2017 (IPS)

Religious advocacy groups have a long history of working with the United Nations, pushing back against progressive interpretations of the terms ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ as enshrined  in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That effort was seemingly rewarded in 2016 as more people voted across the globe for political parties promising conservative interpretations of both, in stark contrast to moves by some countries in recent years to legalise same sex marriage and enhance protections for LGBTQI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex] people.

In 2017, the battle to define these terms both as they appear in the declaration and in law is growing increasingly fierce.

Like most advocacy directed at UN or Washington policy makers, lobbying by religious groups typically takes place behind the scenes, with success often measured in terms of whether or not progressive social policies get adopted.

Two of the most active and successful players are the World Congress of Families (WCF) – with its longstanding ties to African, Russian and Eastern European governments, as well as conservative US  politicians –  and the legal advocacy group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has  had many successes in international courts defending Judeo-Christian rights. Both organisations cite their consultative status at the UN as a key to their reputations.

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs says that, given the current political climate, WCF and its supporters have cause for optimism.

“There’s been a fundamental denial over the last 50 years that the family is needed,” he told IPS, referring to the diversification of family structure away from the ‘traditional’ or nuclear model favoured by conservatives towards a more open interpretation. “Much of it is a result of the agenda of sexual revolution lobbyists,” he added, a view also shared by many involved in religious social policy.

“I think one of our greatest successes is protecting Article 16.3 [The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State]. Other groups are trying to redefine existing mandates in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the idea that family is ‘natural’ is one of our biggest successes.”

Pope Francis echoed these sentiments during his address to the United Nations, describing the family as “the primary cell of any social development”. While Pope Francis has preached acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality, he has never shown support for the non-nuclear family or gender fluidity.

The WCF coordinates conservative groups and has been linked to major international policy shifts, such as Russia’s law prohibiting the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’, and Hungary’s ‘family-friendly’ policies. These moves have been linked to a rise in persecution of and violence against LGBTQI citizens. Members and associates of the group have been linked to the passage of laws outlawing homosexuality throughout Africa, and the failure of the Estrela Resolution to pass the European Parliament, a proposal to treat abortion as a human right and standardise sexual health education.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” -- Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May.

In the opposite corner to these groups, but likewise  drawing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  as the foundation for its  work, is  LGBTQI advocacy group Outright Action International. Outright argues that denying the expansion of ‘family’ beyond a nuclear structure and ‘marriage’ beyond a heterosexual union violates human rights.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” says Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May. “We felt very grateful for the support of [ex- UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon. He became a strong advocate for universality.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom joined the World Congress of Families in UN consultative status in 2014, with its declared aims to “help craft language that affirms religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. Chief counsel Benjamin Bull wrote: “ADF can now have a say when UN treaties and conventions are drafted that directly impact religious liberty and important matters related to the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.”

“No person – anywhere – should be punished simply for holding to Christian beliefs,” says Bull. Bull opposed Former UN Secretary-General Ban’s support for Ban’s LGBTQI rights arguing that it privileged “the demands of sexually confused individuals over the rights of other individuals.”

Cases for which ADF have advocated in the United States, Europe and in the Global South, most notably in Central and South America, have drawn accusations of human rights violations.

One key act during Ban’s tenure was the creation of a Special Rapporteur for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Inaugural appointee Vitit Muntarbhorn has been charged with identifying instances where human rights are violated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Muntarbhorn only narrowly kept his role after the legitimacy of the office was challenged twice by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting deep divisions within the UN’s membership on this issue.

“Vitit has a very focused brief so we’re excited to be working with him and other mandate holders,” says Outright’s May. “We’ll be looking to provide him and other experts with the best information available.”

WCF’s Larry Jacobs is keen to point out that, despite being designated a ‘hate group’ and ‘virulently anti-gay’ by both mainstream news media and human rights advocacy groups, he does not condone violence.

“We are not anti-gay. Homosexuals are the people that need a natural family the most. We are the ones that want to help the victims of the sexual revolution, the victims of divorce, the victims of people who have lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I think the question about homosexuality is ‘how do we deal with brokenness?’ ”

But May contests this. “We know throughout history that family units are not about one man, one women and two children. That’s quite a western construct. There are many examples of same-sex couple families with children that provide love. Human rights are applicable to the individual, and family units are very important, but they should never trump the right of the individual.”

“What we know about gender-based violence and LGBTQI rights are that they’re needed to protect an individual that might be at risk from their family. They have rights and obligations within human rights law and those rights should never be used to privilege heterosexuality.”

Despite their marked differences, both Jacobs and May are cautiously optimistic about the UN’s approach under new Secretary-General António Guterres, a man who forged his political and diplomatic career balancing socialist beliefs with his Catholic faith.

“We’d expect the incoming Secretary General would have the same interpretation of human rights law and traditional cultural values as Ban Ki Moon,” says May. “We feel very encouraged about his statements.”

“It’s a very exciting time,” concurs Jacobs. “Even when his party went against him on abortion, Guterres stayed true to his faith and his values. He wasn’t afraid to talk about the sanctity of human life from conception to death, so this is an exciting time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt Vitit Muntarbhorn’s name.

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New Mandate for LGBTI Rights at the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-mandate-for-lgbti-rights-at-the-un/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 18:05:34 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148892 Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

Stamps commemorating the UN Free and Equal Rights Campaign in defense of LGBTI rights, launched in 2016, which caused unrest in 54 African countries and Russia. Credit: UN Postal Administration

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

The first-ever independent UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Thai lawyer Vivit Muntarbhorn, has already begun the process of open and transparent consultations with individuals, social organizations and States, although some of them still object to the mandate.

Muntarbhorn, an international law Professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, has the mission of helping protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), who are victims of violence, hatred and discrimination in many countries.The new U.N. expert hopes to "invite a broader understanding of human diversity."

The Thai jurist, a graduate from English University of Oxford and a collaborator of several UN agencies since 1990, is now part of the special procedures system of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which safeguards the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and is made up of 57 experts, 43 thematic and 17 mandated by country.

Muntarbhorn began his work at the end of January, following a contentious vote in June 2016 at the UN Human Rights Council to set the mandate that world forum agencies and social organisations have been demanding for decades. Of the 47 States that make up the Council, 21 voted in favour, 18 against and six abstained.

The approved text “was watered down by a series of amendments led by regressive countries like Russia and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation such as Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Pooja Patel, researcher at the Geneva-based International Human Rights Service.

At the end of 2016, the independent expert’s mandate overcame other obstacles posed by African countries before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

On the other hand, Muntarbhorn received a strong support from social organisations as well as States, mainly from Latin America and Western Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, begins his mandate in favour of the rights of LGBTI people with an emphasis on five interrelated areas. Credit: Jena Marc Ferré / UN

The European Union’s representative, Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan, emphasised the attitude of the seven Latin American countries -Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay– which presented the original resolution to create the mandate and defended it throughout harsh debates.

Following these discussions in the Council and in the General Assembly “the numbers and support for this mandate around the world has only grown,” said André du Plessis, an Advocacy Manager of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

Muntarbhorn acknowledged that the dissent among countries is important, but said he intends to establish consultations with all. “We are trying to strengthen and reinforce implementation of existing standards effectively,” he said in an interview with IPS.

The expert pointed out that the term “sexual orientation” is about “how we feel towards others and it’s an external dimension of what we are, while gender identity is the internal dimension of what we are, which may be different in terms of identity from the gender or sex assigned at birth. And this is very much to do with transgender persons.”

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

The new UN expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity faces problems such as the rejection of the African bloc, where in many countries LGBTI people suffer very harsh laws against their rights. Credit: Amy Fallon / IPS

All people have sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), he reminded, “But SOGI are part of everyone. And the sad fact is that everybody has SOGI, but those who have a different SOGI are persecuted for being different from the perceived rather strict heterosexual male/female binary norm,” Muntarbhorn noted.

“And that’s inviting a broader understanding of human diversity, which has to come from a young age. And this is one way of preventing misunderstandings and misconceptions which ultimately may lead to violence and discrimination,” he added.

The expert’s immediate agenda includes a presentation to the Human Rights Council during its next session, from Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, as well as his first evaluation visit to a country, Argentina, from Mar. 1 to 10.

In his work plan, Muntarbhorn will emphasise “five areas interrelated and mutually reinforcing that are instrumental in the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“These linchpins are: decriminalisation, destigmatization, legal recognition of gender Identity, cultural inclusion with gender and sexual diversity and empathization.”

On decriminalisation, the expert said, “I think that there are 70 countries now that still criminalize and five to seven that still give the death penalty. This is a major concern. We need to dialogue well with these countries. ”

A 2015 ILGA report shows “Same-sex sexual acts – death penalty (13 States [or parts of]), six per cent of United Nation States.”

“Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia (Islamic law) and implemented countrywide (4): Africa: Sudan. Asia: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and implemented provincially (2): 12 northern states in Nigeria and the southern parts of Somalia,” the report details.

The death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia but not known to be implemented for same-sex behaviour specifically (5): Africa: Mauritania. Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE.

Death penalty for same-sex sexual behaviour codified under Sharia implemented by local courts/vigilantes/non-State actors (2): Asia: Iraq and Daesh (ISIS / ISIL)-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Muntarbhorn noted that “there are also cases of countries where there may be a law criminalizing same sex relationships, affecting particularly gays. The very same countries are also very open about transgender people. And this is the reality at local level.”

“It’s very important not to generalize too much, but to look at the specifics and to try to improve across the board with fully human rights guarantees comply with international standards,” he said.

Since the 1980s nearly 15 countries have decriminalized, “so it’s really possible. And even 10 years ago or two years ago I wouldn’t have thought that an independent expert on SOGI would be here,” Muntarbhorn said.

Regarding the destigmatization, the expert recalled that “until 1990s, even at the international level gays were classified as mentally ill, when in reality they are only part of the human biodiversity.” That year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.

“But we still have this classification particularly as regards transgender persons and intersex persons. We want to find a way of moving forward respectful of people’s identity without stigmatizing them, without medicalizing the issue, without pathologizing the situation and classifying someone as mentally ill,” he said.

The legal recognition and gender identity is very much linked with trans persons as well as intersex persons to some extent, because trans persons want to have their identity recognized legally even though it may be a different identity from their sex at birth.

“So this also is very much linked to the compulsory surgery which is imposed on them if they wish to change their identity in several countries. But in other countries even the possibility of gender identity change is none at all,” Muntarbhorn said.

“Trans are being classified as males when they feel that they are female, they dress as female and encounter a lot of problems, including bullying, including stereotyping, including problems in bathrooms, problems going to immigration, and ultimately torture,” he said.

“A lot of transgender persons are killed even in countries that recognize transgender identity change,” he noted.

On cultural inclusion, “in the specific case of LGBTI, we have positive elements such as in some communities, transgender people are protected and valued, almost as gods and goddesses, in history,” the Thai jurist said. “But in other situations we have the negative traditional practices that kill, that harm, that persecute people who are different in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Muntarbhor found “that happens in many communities, including some application of certain interpretation of religious laws, as well as the remnants of colonial laws that used to criminalize these relationships.”

About the term of the “empathization,” the expert explained that he uses it “meaning nurturing empathy, a certain understanding, self-understanding, for other people so that we are humans.”

“And this means attitude, it means knowledge, it means mindset, and it’s to do with education, but more than education. It’s to do with socialization, it’s to do with linking up with families, communities, from a young age, so that we feel empathy, a certain understanding of those who are different from us in terms of gender and sexual diversity,” Muntarbhor concluded.

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Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/feed/ 1 A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Nations Lose Bid to Block UN LGBTI Experthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 21:29:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147892 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nations-lose-bid-to-block-un-lgbti-expert/feed/ 0 Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147144 Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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Displaced Youth: Selling Souls to Sex and Drugshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/displaced-youth-selling-souls-to-sex-and-drugs/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 14:44:37 +0000 Rose Delaney http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146072 From violence in refugee camps to the rise of Islamophobia, the gay Syrian community faces a multitude of challenges. Credit: IPS

From violence in refugee camps to the rise of Islamophobia, the gay Syrian community faces a multitude of challenges. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Jul 15 2016 (IPS)

Omar’s striking blue eyes and well-built physique are accentuated by his fashionable, tight-fitting apparel. At first glance, one would regard him as a carefree young man, blessed with the gifts of intellect and beauty. However, appearances can be deceptive. The traumas of war, displacement and isolation hang over Omar like an ominous shadow.

In 2013, triggered by the death of his best friend in the midst of bloody conflict, Omar fled Syria eventually landing in Germany. Desperately in search of a safe haven, he paid over 15 000 euro for a false Nordic passport which was later seized at the Hannover airport in Germany on his arrival. As one of the thousands of refugees, predominantly from Syria and Iraq, to flood into Germany in the past few years, Omar’s journey as a displaced youth has been far from easy.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugees as young as Omar are “Persons of Concern” and for the most part, their strife remains undocumented and underrepresented. In this case, the plight of a young displaced person was especially challenging for Omar who identifies himself as part of the gay community.

Although Omar arrived in Germany over three years ago, he claims every day of his life is spent reliving the bloodshed and warfare he bore witness to in Syria. “Every time I see a plane pass by, a jolt of pure fear passes through my body”. A lot of his anxiety is also rooted in his time spent at a refugee camp when he first arrived.

He described his feelings of social exclusion and frustration. “In the camp, I felt as if I had been captured and caged like a defeated lion. I remember trying to jump over the wall to get out…they locked up all the doors at 9 pm every night”.

The need to put on a “straight mask” to conceal his sexual orientation also acted as a form of incarceration for him. “I was less than a person, denied the right to express my true identity among my own people”. Men who openly identified themselves as gay in the camp or who were considered to be “feminine” by the other refugees were subjected to violence, torment, and humiliation.

Omar expressed happiness over the fact that in recent months many camps have been established solely concentrated on providing refuge to those who identify themselves as LGBT. He does not wish the grief gay refugees experienced in his camp on anyone.

The transition from his camp to government-funded accommodation in Berlin forced Omar to overcome many hurdles. The reality of his situation turned out to be a far cry from the “European dream” he had fantasized about in Syria. Then free to lead his own life, he quickly gave into vices and fell into the precarious world of drugs.

“During my first year, in order to send money home to my family, I began to sell drugs. I was one of many Syrians pushed into this underground business. Feelings of depression and desperation make young men like me fall into this trap”.

Omar explained that the “white” market could never give him enough to lead a sustainable life whilst funding his sister’s university education and maintaining the upkeep of his parents. Once well-to-do and affluent, his family had lost their prosperous business during the war in Syria.

“No one could ever understand how hard life is here for Syrians like me, my main priority is getting my sisters through education. At this point, I can only think of them, my family has been left with nothing.”

According to a study issued by the UNHCR on displaced youth, the majority of young refugees are obliged to take on the role of breadwinner for their families. They are seen as “the backbone of the community” left at home. This, in turn, has pushed displaced men like Omar to become involved in illegal trade and crime to provide for the bare necessities of their loved ones.

Unable to cope with the risks he exposed himself to, Omar abandoned the drug trade and went on to work in the local sex industry as a male escort. Although his family would have never accepted this choice, he emphasised the fact that “in times like these, you cannot think about love or respect.”

Ashamed about what he considered a “seedy” occupation, he began to tell friends and family that he was taking on modelling work to get by. Omar stated that within the gay community, the majority of Syrian refugees opt for the easy money that comes with the sex trade.

“One can typically earn between 100-150 euro per hour for this work. Finding an affluent man to be your “sugar daddy”, escorting and even porn” have all become ways for many of Omar’s displaced friends to support themselves and those depending on them back home.

Omar explained that even finding love can be difficult due to the recent rise of Islamophobia across Germany. On Grindr, a popular dating app used by the gay community, Omar and many of his friends have experienced discrimination and verbal abuse from other men using the service.

Omar receives messages such as “Go back home, we don’t want ISIS in our country” and “You’re a Muslim terrorist” on a daily basis. Whereas he once felt the need to hide his sexuality, he now feels it is more important to conceal his religion and nationality.

“When I first arrived, the German people were accommodating and kind-hearted, now they are taking to the streets in protest. They want us out, they believe we are all extremists.”

Now, Omar has left the dark underworld of sex and drugs that he feels in many ways dehumanized him. He’s hopeful for the future as he is now fluent in German and is working towards his goal of becoming a personal trainer.

When asked if he thought the conflict in Syria would end anytime soon he replied “A peaceful Syria is not possible in the near future. It’s in the same situation as Iraq. Religious intolerance leads to conflict, even though it’s a secular state. No one forgives and forgets, it’s a vicious circle.”

In spite of this, Omar still dreams about the day he can return to his homeland. “If the war stopped, I would go back to Syria in a heartbeat. However, speaking for the majority of the gay Syrian community, they are in no hurry to go back to a society that never accepted them in the first place”.

In this sense, although Europe has presented young gay refugees like Omar with a multitude of challenges, it has also provided them with refuge, stability and the first chance to be themselves and embrace their sexuality.

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First Independent Expert To Tackle LGBTI Discrimination: “Historic Victory”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/first-independent-expert-to-tackle-lgbti-discrimination-historic-victory/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2016 19:48:48 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145910 Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2016 (IPS)

Human rights groups have described the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) decision on Thursday to appoint an independent expert to target the ongoing discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people all over the world as a “historic victory.”

“For LGBTI people everywhere who have fought so hard for this victory, take strength from this recognition, and let today represent the dawn of a new day,” OutRight International’s executive director Jessica Stern said. OutRight International was one of 28 non-governmental groups which welcomed the resolution with a joint statement.

More than 600 nongovernmental organizations helped ensure that the HRC in Geneva adopted the resolution to “protect people against violence & discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

The establishment of an expert-position for these problems is a significant step since not all of the UN’s 193 members see eye to eye on LGBTI issues. “A UN Independent Expert sends a clear message that violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are a concern for the international community and need to be addressed by Member States,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told IPS.

With regard to compliance, Fisher said: “Of course, some States will decline to cooperate, which only underlines the need for the outreach work that an Independent Expert will conduct. Members of the Human Rights Council are required by a GA (General Assembly) resolution to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the biggest defenders of LGBT rights in the United States, expressed its approval, too. Jamil Dakwar, ACLU’s International Human Rights Director, told IPS the HRC resolution “is yet another affirmation that the promise of universal human rights leaves no one behind.”

"Transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity." -- John Fisher

He also emphasized that “even in a country like the United States, where some LGBT rights are legally recognized, recent events, including the tragic mass shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando and the post-marriage equality legislative backlash against transgender people, confirm that the human rights of LGBT communities are in dire need of attention and protection.”

Indeed, although many states are making progress, LGBTI people still face discrimination and violence. According to studies, between half and two thirds of LGBTI students in the US, UK and Thailand are bullied at school and thirty percent of them skip school to avoid the trouble.

Fisher said to IPS that “discrimination is faced in access to health, housing, education and employment, transgender persons face laws which deny their fundamental self-defined gender identity.”

In the past years, violence, particularly against transgender people was shockingly common. For example, the 2014 report of the Anti-Violence Project showed that police violence was 7 times more likely to affect transgender people than non-transgenders. The 2015 report, released this June, revealed that 67 percent of victims of hate violence related killings of LGBTQ people were transgender.

A study released this week shows that there are 1.4 million transgender persons living in the United States: Twice as many as previously estimated. Although the US is slowly addressing some issues related to LGBT rights, such as removing barriers for transgender persons in the military some states have begun banning transgender people from using the bathroom according to the gender they identify with.

Human Rights Watch and others are happy to witness progress in states like the US and many Latin American countries. There was a clear pattern in the voting behavior of Thursday’s HRC meeting, too. No African and few Asian countries (only South Korea and Vietnam) voted in favor of the resolution. The 18 votes against the new resolution came among others from Russia, China and various Arab States.

The non-governmental actors who supported the resolution, however, also came from developing countries. “It is important to note that around 70 percent of the organizations are from the global south,” Yahia Zaidi of the MantiQitna Network said.

The resolution builds on previous HRC decisions in 2011 and 2014. In the newest draft, the independent expert is the most important innovation. Still, other parts of it were debated, too:

“Some amendments were adopted suggesting that cultural and religious values should be respected; these amendments could be interpreted as detracting from the universality of human rights. The resolution does, however, also include a provision from the outcome document of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, affirming the primacy of human rights,” Fisher reported from the council in Geneva.

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Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0 Collective Indifference or Silent Acceptance?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:30:52 +0000 Moyukh Mahtab http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145773 By Moyukh Mahtab
Jun 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When blogger Rajib Haider was killed in 2013, the outcry was tremendous. But, over the next three years, at least 38 more were added to the list of those murdered, which includes writers, publisher, foreigners, religious minorities and LGBT rights activists. There have been reports about alleged IS involvement, and last week, the security forces launched a drive that resulted in the arrest of 194 ‘militants’. But the collective outrage over people being murdered seems to have mellowed.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

It’s almost as if there is a general indifference towards those being killed now – there has even been ‘doubts’ about whether the slain deserved their fate. Of course, most Muslims in this country are not radical in their belief. But certain attitudes towards minorities have made the situation worse. As long as there is an impression that many people find nothing wrong with the murder of those who might have differing beliefs, whoever is behind these killings, be it Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, JMB or even IS, are being ‘legitimised’ in their acts.

A recent article by The New York Times tries to explain the situation. The report quotes the Chief of the Police Counterterrorism Unit, Monirul Islam: “They have tried to pick their targets with care, with the aim of gaining support from the public. . . Their goal was to convert Bangladesh’s mixed secular and religious culture to an Islamist one.” The report does not inspire hope. Further comments from Monirul Islam and the reporter run along the same lines: “To a surprising extent, the militants have succeeded in their aim of discrediting secularism”; “In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill”. (“Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers”, NYT, June 8, 2016)

The killers seem to have achieved what they wanted. They targeted the deep-rooted cultural biases and attitudes of the largely Sunni Muslim population of the country. The moment bloggers of the Shahbagh movement became branded as ‘atheists’, the public outrage over fanaticism shifted. A pervasive fear has taken hold that Islam is somehow under threat, and eliminating elements that supposedly run counter to the religion need to be discarded. In the week of the police crackdown on militancy, a Hindu college teacher was stabbed in Madaripur, and staff of Ramakrishna Mission received death threats. And yet, the majority of the people remain unconcerned.

And here we must confront some uncomfortable issues. Despite our loud proclamations of being a secularist country, are we truly, by any definition secular? Our Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and safeguards against persecution due to religious belief. Secularism entails official neutrality of the state in matters of religion: that is religion is a personal issue, not a state one.

Yet, our minorities have been marginalised over the past four decades and the country’s Hindu population is on a decline (from about 30 percent before ’71 to less than 10 percent today). Since independence, secularism as a basic principle of the Constitution was removed, a state religion was ordained, and now we have the conflicting state of both being there at the same time.

Institutions like the Awami Olama League can today demand removal of Hindu ministers and judges with impunity and still operate under the AL banner. Age-old traditions of celebrating Pahela Baishakh are challenged as being un-Islamic. There has been increasing pressure from sections of society trying to impose parochial values and codes on women in the name of religious decency. Just this week a post that sparked a lot of debate on social media exemplified the manifestation of our belief when a woman was abused verbally on the road for driving a car instead of being at home, preparing iftari. The abuse was met with support of the general onlookers, as they berated the woman for not being at home, where she belonged.

Clearly, the state of affairs did not develop overnight; ghosts of unresolved communal issues, stretching from 1971 to as far as at least 1947, and the post-independence coups and countercoups have resulted in a fragile and fragmented society with serious identity issues. We seem to be grappling with the question of who we are. Instead of our identity being based on our roots in this country, with the corresponding effect of apathy and hostility towards not just other religions, but also towards other Islamic schools of thought like those of Shias and Ahmeddiyas. The root of the problem is that increasing number of people, including students, from universities and madrasas, are becoming radicalised.

On top of that, the educated liberal elites’ defensive stance on the issue has created further confusion. The Islamophobia in the West, and the repercussion of US foreign policy, has meant that Muslims here have been active in refuting the terrorist association with Islam. But, what they seem to miss is that the Islamophobia of Trump in a country where Muslims are a minority, and the case of a country like Bangladesh with a Muslim majority are not the same. Islam does not promote terrorism and killings in any form. That does not mean that certain schools of thought have not misinterpreted the religion in justifying vile acts. The flagging of all Muslims as terrorists is reprehensible, as is refusing to deal with the fact that in the name of the religion, actions are being carried out that go against its core values.

The previously mentioned New York Times article quotes authorities in Bangladesh as saying: “Only when the leaders are caught will the attacks be stopped, and at that, only for a while if the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is not blunted.” Collectively, we are indifferent towards those being hunted down and butchered. We refuse to acknowledge the issues that plague our society. Religion is not at fault here. The problem is with how religion is being interpreted by some people; the killers are being used as pawns, while the general people stand aloof. As long as we do not confront our exclusionary beliefs and accept that people with different beliefs than ours live in this country, no amount of anti-militancy drives or constitutional amendments can stop the killings.

The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Fearing Violence, LGBT Refugees Rarely Seek Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/feed/ 0 Majority of Vulnerable Refugees Will Not Be Resettled in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:18:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145669 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/feed/ 0 AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/aids-meeting-was-bold-but-disappointing-organisations-say/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145610 A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

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Youth Leaders Push for More Progressive Action to End HIV AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 23:26:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145592 Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet their concerns about sexual education, and discrimination of key populations were ignored at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS.

Although the overall number of AIDS-related deaths is down 35 percent since 2005, estimates suggest that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents are actually rising.

In fact, AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.

Young people’s vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by a lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services and by exclusion from decision making processes.

At the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS this week, Member States adopted a new political declatarion focusing on the Fast-Track approach to fighting HIV and ending AIDS by 2030. Fast-Track is driven by the 90–90–90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation."

But youth delegates say that issues of stigma, discrimination, and sexual education were not given the importance they should have in the declaration since youth were not included in the negotiations.

“The concept of 90-90-90 is amazing, but in practice without access to sexual education or participation of key populations and young people, the goals are unrealistic,” said Peter Mladenov, one youth representative from Youth Peer Educational Network.

At the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, there were 20 young people representing different organisations.

“Unfortunately, all youth representatives were excluded from the negotiations on the high level meeting on Aids political declaration,” said Mladenov.

“Our wishes were not heard and the rights were not promoted since in the final document we did not see any sexuality education, or mentioning of key populations.”

Mladenov is an expert on youth policies and has been a youth advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Rights  and Comprehensive Sexual Education for the past 10 years. At the age of 14, he was invited to join a class on sexual education in school which he says changed his life and began his journey with sexual health and reproductive rights advocacy.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV / AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation.”

“Sex ed is not only about the sex, it is about the informed choice of each young person, understanding the changes in your body, a young girl having the right to say no to marriage at age 15, an instrument to prevent child abuse or female genital mutilation.”

Mladenov says sexual education can help end stigma and discrimination.

“It is nice that we are progressing, same-sex marriage is approved in different countries and shows that the world is changing for the better. But there is still a long way to go, people with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. When someone discriminates against a person it is usually because they are afraid of something, which is why sexual education is so important.”

Another youth leader attending the meeting was Annah Sango from the HIV Young Leaders Fund Board:

“Sexual rights really are human rights, because when it comes to talking about my body and my health and well being, it is not an issue of a statistic, but what I live each and every day,” said Sango.

“It is every young person’s need and right to be in your own country, and be able to know you have access to health and to know that the justice system is working for you, not against you.”

Sango grew up seeing how disadvantaged young people are, and how sometimes culture, society and tradition play a very crucial role in the lives of young people as much as the economic aspects. When asked what she would have wanted in the declaration, she said it was important to ensure that countries aren’t allowed to hide behind culture and religion, and rather have an open mind to the issues in their countries. She also said that member states should have given clear-cut strategies to address some of the pertinent issues facing young people.

Sango is also Advocacy Officer for the African Network of Young People living with HIV (AY+) which heavily advocates for Comprehensive Sexual Education and supports young people to dispel disinformation which drive stigma and discrimination.

“We cannot talk about AIDS whilst excluding young people and key populations. At country level, the agreement needs to reflect the face of HIV: young people that face violence, the millions of young people that have died because of their sexuality, the reality of teenage pregnancies, and of adolescents who are dying because they cannot be identified.”

Sango also said the negotiations for the declaration were very exclusive of youth voices, however she is optimistic that in the future youth will be included at the national level.

“I am confident that whatever goals, whatever agendas we are working towards, we will be able to achieve them if we include the right people to lead and champion the agenda,” said Sango.

Mladenov was also optimistic that about young people’s participation.

“Many people say that young people are the future, but that is not correct – we are the present, and we should be the ones who drive the sustainable development agenda to its accomplishment.” Mladenov told IPS.

“Although we don’t have what we want in the political declaration, we have the will, the power, and motivation to do it. The youth working on the local and national level should not be afraid to take up the floor, to go to their ministries, to demand that they involve youth as equal partners in implementing the declaration.”

“We should not forget that these people were elected by us, they are accountable to us, not vice-versa. If we have more governments really involving young people, we can achieve sustainable development.”

“Young people should be the agents of change, they should be the ones who push their governments to do something for them because they already agreed to with this declaration.”

“I dream for a day when I will not hear about a person coming from an LGBT community who is harassed, or a young woman or girl who is somehow violated, or a young person is excluded.”

IPS also spoke to Sharonann Lynch, HIV/Tuberculosis (TB) policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign.

“In many countries where MSF works, young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, are most at risk of contracting HIV,” said Lynch. “For example, in Lesotho, the prevalence of HIV will multiply by 5 in the next 7 years among adolescent girls from the age of 15 to 22. So the question for the region is what can we put in place as soon as possible to provide life-saving treatment as well as prevention.” Lynch told IPS.

“Youth are critical to combat stigma by creating more visibility. Young people can combat stigma by being out about their HIV status, demanding not only a voice but also acceptance in their communities. But governments need to make sure they take steps to reduce stigma and discrimination as well.”

 

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A Triple Threat in the Fight Against AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:28:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145554 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-triple-threat-in-the-fight-against-aids/feed/ 1 Transgender in Pakistan: A “Forgotten People”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 13:04:08 +0000 Alec Forss and Humaira Israr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145423 Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

By Alec Forss and Humaira Israr
ISLAMABAD, Jun 3 2016 (IPS)

At an open market in the district of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, Miss Bindiya Rana, 35, starts another day at work selling clothes. Living in one of the poorer parts of the city, like many others here she faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. Yet, of strong build with dyed hair and wearing heavy make-up, she and others like her face a bigger challenge than most.

Part of the transgender or hijra community, social stigma and discrimination make them outcasts in Pakistan’s highly conservative society. While there are no official precise figures on the number of transgender or third-gender people living in the country, estimates range from 80,000 to 350,000-500,000, with perhaps 60-70,000 in Karachi alone.

From a lower middle-class family, Rana first became aware of her identity as a child. In public she dressed like a boy, but alone in her room she would wear girl’s clothes, lipstick and practise dancing. After running away from home for two months, her parents gradually came to accept her identity. Most are not so lucky. Shunned by their families, many have no option but to join close-knit hijra communities led by older gurus who take on the role of ersatz guardians, offering them protection.  

With few completing formal education, employment opportunities are limited. Many have to endure ridicule by dancing openly in the streets or at weddings to scrape by a living, or resort simply to begging. Others are involved in sex work with little education about safe sex and the dangers of HIV.

Vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse, they also have to bear the humiliating attitude of police officers, doctors at hospitals, and public officials, complains Rana. Reports of beatings and other forms of violence directed against them are commonplace.

On May 25, a transgender individual by the name of Alisha died in a hospital in Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after succumbing to gunshot wounds, with some blaming delayed medical care for her death after other patients allegedly complained and doctors debated whether she belonged in the male or female ward. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, it is the fifth reported case of violence in the province against transgenders this year.

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Times wrote that, “In the light of apathetic attitude and its justification by hospital authorities, it would not be farfetched to conclude that an abhorrent form of apartheid mentality prevails in Pakistan in which transgenders elicit such contempt that their lives are not given even an iota of value.”

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Pakistan’s hijras have faced a long battle to be accepted as full citizens with equal rights according to the country’s constitution. In 2012, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court decreed that they be issued with computerized national identity cards, thus for the first time officially listing their existence as a legal third gender.

“We were in seventh heaven,” said Rana of the decision conferring many of the same rights, such as voting, property, and inheritance, as other citizens.

However, the National Database and Registration Authority, charged with issuing the cards under the Ministry of Interior, initially dragged its feet, requesting that they undergo humiliating medical examinations first.

“We came out onto the streets protesting and managed to overturn the decision,” said Rana.

Nevertheless, more than four years on, many still do not have cards. One of the main obstacles is that cards can only be issued to those with biological parents or those officially adopted with proper documentation. For those who have been ostracized by or run away from their families (or simply did not know them as they joined hijra communities when very young), this proves an impossibility. Furthermore, the gurus are not considered to be parents by the registration authorities.

But to tackle the issue, no interim arrangement has been devised by the establishment. The continued non-provision of cards means that many continue to be deprived of full civil rights as well as enrolment in the Benazir Income Support Program (social security program) and free National Health Program.

Other attempts to improve the status of hijras through affirmative employment policies and increasing opportunities have also proven insufficient, poorly paid, or even derogatory. The regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to employing hijras for debt collection by instructing them to dance outside debtors’ doors and so shame them into paying up. “It was very humiliating for us,” explains Rana.

Despite the progress made, Rana remains frustrated at the lack of support and hostile attitudes. One of five transgender candidates in Pakistan’s general elections in May 2013 (the first time in the country’s history that hijras could run), she ran and lost as an independent candidate to Sindh Provincial Assembly.

“Instead of supporting me, people mocked me in every way possible,” she says.

Determined to improve the plight of Karachi’s hirja, she established her own NGO in 2009 called Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan, which seeks to provide shelter, employment, basic skills training, and even a telephone helpline. “We are the forgotten people,” she says, but “I will fight for our equal rights until the end.”

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