India Responds to Asia Pacific Trans Network’s Request for Educational Materials
Hijra's in India making headway, but still facing barriers
The Asia Pacific Transgender Network [APTN], a regional trans empowering NGO, is in the process of developing a resource guide about transitioning in the diverse Asia Pacific Region.
The [APTN], whose stated mission is “To enable transgender women and men in the Asia and Pacific region to organize and advocate for the improvement of their health, protection of their legal, social and human rights, and enhancement of their social well-being and quality of life,” is soliciting input all across Asia and the South Pacific looking for information regarding transgender issues including, but not limited to, transitioning socially, medically and keeping safe by offering suggestions on how to deal with transphobia and being resilient.
The APTN will be looking for and focusing on the following topics for education and awareness.
- I think I might be trans
- Telling others(family, friends, your current partner, school or workmates)
- Non-medical transition steps(binding, tucking, asking friends to use a different name or pronoun)
- Medical transition steps (hormones and surgeries)
- Keeping safe and strong(dealing with bullying and transphobia, feeling good about your identity and your body, resilience)
The final report will be issued in English, be no more than 25 pages in length and it will include answers to common questions asked by family, friends, academia and medical institutions in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The first country to step up to the plate is India, a country that has only recently recognized people who are transgender, or Hijra, as “the third gender.” In 2014, India’s Supreme Court Justice KS Radhakrishnan said, “Recognition of transgenders[sic] as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.” But change is slow in a country where “89% of the Hijras are surviving on begging and sex work.”
India’s Pehchan, (named for the Hindi word meaning ‘identity,’ ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement) is an organization dedicated to bringing dignity to Hijra by pushing for societal inclusion, the reduction of sex work which results in a staggering number of HIV/AIDS cases in India and dignified job independence.
According to their website, Pehchan is funded by the Global Fund and remains their largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable and under-served sexual minorities. The program strengthens and builds the capacity of 200 community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide effective, inclusive and sustainable HIV prevention programming in 17 states in India for more than 450,000 men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender and Hijras (collectively, MTH).
The organization has issued a 60 page training curriculum and facilitator guide that is being issued to the trans community, key stakeholders like health care provider and government agencies, researchers and academicians.
According to the Pehchan report:
- 7 out of 10 Hijras interviewed felt that they were at a higher risk of HIV transmission because of unsafe sex.
- 8 out of 10 interviewed had their first commercial sex experience prior to the age of 15
- 4 out of 10 stated that they had more multiple commercial sex partners in a month
- 8 out of 10 reported staying away from their primary residence for long periods of time with 60% saying that they had migrated for sex work.
- 3 out of 4 interviewed were not accepted or supported by their families, forcing them out of their homes.
- Only 2 out of 10 were illiterate, but half had dropped out of school by grade 12.
- 57% reported being raped by the police.
PlanetTransgender reached out to the National Program Manager for Pehchan, Abhina Aher to find out what would help Hijra in becoming more accepted into the general population. Aher commented, “The visibility of the Hijras were always there in India. However, there was fear shame and violence attached to it. Right now that visibility is transforming into the positive role model.”
When asked what would positively increase the visibility of Hijra, Abhina Aher continued, “Positive role modeling. At this point 89% of the Hijras are surviving on begging and sex work. Some of them are employed in NGOs doing HIV work. Recently a trans woman from West Bengal become a college principle and another one is becoming a police officer. These positive employments for the Hijras and trans women will have a larger impact. I have started a campaign called ‘job for dignity’ trying to employ as much as transgender women in the mainstream society. Financial independence in dignified job will increase the acceptance in society.”
That’s where the 60 page module from Pehchen comes into play. The interactive report is designed as a training tool to teach key stakeholders the vulnerability of the transgender community, the sexual health in relation to HIV/AIDS, the transformation and feminization process, social exclusion, rights and entitlements, and then reaching and mobilizing the transgender and Hijra community.
The report then comes with a question and answer session as well as a power-point presentation for group participation. It is designed to help understand the difference between identity and sex and train the participants to “become familiar with the challenges facing the transgender and Hijra community members in the current context.”
Social inclusion is right around the corner for Hijra, but it won’t come without organizations like the APTN and the Pehchan. In the last decade alone, Hijra have been provided with free legal services in Haryana, pensions in Delhi/NRC, reservation in government job in Punjab, and part of the national survey in Telangana. Nationally, Hijra can apply for passports as ‘O’ or ‘T’, voter ID cards have been issued and the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Welfare Board offers free SRS in select government hospitals.
Aher concluded, “Using a rights-based approach, the program develops CBOs to serve as implementing partners with the National AIDS Control Program’s Targeted Interventions (TIs) that provide HIV prevention services to high-risk groups. By helping build strong CBOs, Pehchan addresses capacity gaps that often prevent them from receiving government funding.”