Transgender and hijra activists call for improved health, living conditions and enabling legal environment

Feb 5, 2015

Dr. Minendra Rijal, Honorable Minister for Information and Communication of Nepal, inaugurates the South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation. Photo: BDS.

Kathmandu, Nepal – Transgender people and hijra activists from South Asia called for more evidence-informed policy and laws to improve health, living conditions and overall well-being of their communities, at a consultation this week in Kathmandu.

The three-day consultation, ‘The South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation: Advancing Trans and Hijra Rights and Health’, brought together over 70 participants, including transgender women, hijra and transgender men, civil society groups, government departments, national human rights institutions, development partners and HIV and health experts.

The discussions gave an important voice to the transgender and hijra community from across the region to articulate their struggles and to engage in constructive discussion with law and policy makers.

“We all have a role to play towards equality and social justice, from government to development partners, from officials from the rule of law institutions to activists from civil society,” said Renaud Meyer, UNDP Country Director for Nepal. “Transgender and hijra groups must take a lead in advocacy campaigns and engage all concerned stakeholders to ensure accountability and to support the achievement of greater results to improve the lives of these individuals.”  

The UNAIDS Director for Nepal and Bhutan, Ruben del Prado, suggested transgender people and hijras to continue advocating and fighting against prejudice and discrimination, while also participating in wider social and community issues that make them visible as contributing and responsible citizens.

In South Asia, transgender people often find themselves pushed to the social, legal and economic margins of society thanks to pervasive stigma, discrimination, prejudice, harassment and abuse. In many places they live in fear of transphobic violence. This often leads to poor emotional health and well-being and to situations and behaviour patterns, including risky sex, which put their health at risk.

“Equality can not be achieved through legal advancement and policies only, but also require changes in society's attitudes and behaviour. I urge the community to stand up and take a lead“, said Dr. Minendra Rijal, Hon. Minister for Information and Communication, Government of Nepal. “As a Minister, I will prepare myself to be a leader who will lead in such a way that encourages everyone to be more sensitive towards the issues of rights and health for the transgender and hijra community – with the hope of change resulting that will be considered revolutionary in retrospect.”

A 2012 UNDP report on the health of transgender people found that in some areas of Asia up to 49 percent of this population were living with HIV.

Criminalization of same sex behaviour in the vast majority of South Asia countries further exacerbates the health crisis, creating barriers to accessing health services and for organizations working in this field to reach them.

"South Asian countries have taken a leading role on some issues regarding rights of transgender people and hijras. The governments of Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for example, have recognized us as ‘third genders’. This is a good start. But we also need equal opportunities in education, employment and easy access to health services,” said Manisha Dhakal, Deputy Director of Blue Diamond Society. “Programmes for us should not be restricted to distributing condoms, lubricants and HIV/STI related services - creating an enabling legal environment is equally important for us."

At the consultation, participants heard about specific case studies where transgender/hijra rights and health have been successfully advanced, including from other regions such as South East Asia and the Pacific.

“Putting in place new laws alone will not be sufficient to achieve our targets. Rather, it would be more effective to join hands and work together to overcome the challenges,” said Subarna Karmacharya, Director of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. “In Nepal, we vow to give priority to the complaints regarding LGBTI issues, and ensure that the specific rights of the LGBTI community receive special mention in our upcoming 5th Strategic Plan.”

The consultation was jointly organized by Blue Diamond Society, Asia Pacific Transgender Network and UNDP under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme (MSA-910-G02-H), with support from UNAIDS, USAID, PEPFAR and the Health Policy Project. 

Contact information

Manisha Dhakal, Deputy Director, Blue Diamond Society (BDS)
+9779849214901 | manishadhakal.nepal@gmail.com

Ian Mungall, Knowledge Management and Strategic Information Officer,
UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
+66909710908 | ian.mungall@undp.org

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