A New Dawn

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Transgender people across the globe are underserved on the issues of health, social wellbeing, economic empowerment, inclusion and on various other structural barriers. Presently, I am attending global meeting on HIV prevention of UNAIDS, and there I realize we must widen our social lens on the need to reach out to transgender people. Yes, we all know that the transgender people needs to be reached out for health interventions since they are at a higher  vulnerability to communicable and non-communicable diseases. However, transgender people needs to be reached out because they have been treated as an ‘invisible’ identity across the globe. Identities are a part of a social construct and cannot be looked solely through the narrow outlook of public health in these present times. We still have a gap in collation of accurate data, research and epidemiological studies which can demystify best ways to provide quality health to the community. It is statistically evident that transgender women are at a higher risk to HIV, due to structural and gender barriers which impedes in their accessibility to avail health services. Globally 19% of the transgender women are living with HIV and chances of HIV infection is 49% higher for transgender women in comparison to other adults. Transgender women who are in sex work are nine times more vulnerable to HIV infection in comparison to cisgender male or female sex workers Globally, we do not have exact numbers of transgender people, but the data suggests that the estimation of transgender population is between 0.1% – 1.1% of the reproductive age adults.. Across the globe, data on transgender people is missing mostly due to assumptions and integration of transgender people as part of a larger umbrella of men who have sex with men (MSM), and lack of political will. Resources towards transgender population is extremely less and many times only used for service delivery rather than community empowerment.

Countries like India, demonstrate stronger impact of community mobilisation for transgender empowerment which has reflected in judiciary reforms, health care, social well-being and an inclusive approach. However, there is a long way to claim success since the glass is half full at this point. While India is spearheading a movement on transgender empowerment, since the last five years, the lack of political will has stalled the pace for the social welfare of transgender people. India has failed miserably to roll out progressive historic judgement which emphasised on welfare policy reforms by the apex court to the ‘third gender’ community. However, the silver lining has been the leadership demonstrated by the civil society partners, community based organisations, community advocates and allies of transgender individuals who have pushed for transgender visibility, welfare and empowerment to the mainstream level. Today, India has evolved in recently appointing few transgender activists as judges of Lok-Adalat (Public Hearing Courts), candidates for the recently announced elections for the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of Parliament, as religious leaders, in the fashion industry, law enforcement agencies and also having gender recognition through social entitlements.

This week, few  transgender women across India from remote districts are tying the marriage knots with the men they have loved over years in Chattisgarh (Central India) and also adopting orphan children to give them good life. The transgender movement in India is slowly recognising transgender men as well like Aryan Pashan, the first transgender man who has become a well-known body builder. Various corporate companies such as Godrej, Lalit Group of Hotels, Lemon Tree, partners of Sudexo hiring agencies have come forward to prepare ‘transgender manifesto’ for transgender inclusion in workplaces. Though it feels like a golden era for transgender visibility and inclusion, post the scrapping down of IPC section 377 from India Penal Code on 6 September 2018,  we must understand that the urge for equal ‘civil rights’ for transgender people and other sexual minorities should continue to be a sustained and gradual work in progress.  But sexual rights are not enough, we need civil rights, right to family and right to property.

. In this new India, transgender people want to engage in the decision making process, policy planning and welfare. In 2019, when transgender bill was supposed to be approved in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) after being passed in the Lok Sabha, to become a law against consensus of transgender community, transgender people across India without any financial support mobilised themselves in the capital of Delhi to protest and send the bill back to reviewed and reformed, affirming their right to be heard. This was first time when the community mobilised to fight for their rights, and I am confident that it was just one of the many transgender protests in India and our hopefully our voices will  much stronger in the coming years and pave the way in deciding the fate of sexual minorities in the coming future.

This blog was authored jointly by the Associate Director of Gender Sexuality & Rights at Alliance India

 Abhina Aher and her team

Alliance India