In 2012, an estimated 600 transgender women were murdered in Latin America because of their gender identity. Transgenders experience stigma, discrimination, abuse, are ostracised from their family and fired from their jobs, this can cause depression, anxiety and psychological stress. Transgender people endure rape, harassment from police and gender-based violence. Many turn to sex work because they have a poor education or cannot find work that doesn’t discriminate against their gender identity.
A study published in the scientific journal Lancet Infectious Disease found that a fifth of transgender women are infected with HIV. The study assessed 11 000 transgender women in 15 different countries in 39 studies. A study in the US found that transgender women who engage in sex work were significantly more likely to be infected with HIV compared to female and male sex workers.
The authors of global study speculate that transgender women with HIV most likely acquired HIV through anal intercourse and are likely to be involved in sexual networks which have a high prevalence of HIV. Globally, there is a lack of prevention interventions, care and treatment programs for transgender women.
In Uganda, Beyonce Tushabe, a transgender woman has boldly founded Transgender Equality Uganda. Through her advocacy work, Beyonce wants to educate doctors, government about transgender. Through education, she believes people will learn, understand and respect transgender people. Her work, however, may be threatened by a government proposed ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill” which will impose severe punishments on people believed to be homosexuals.
Sex and gender are complex value laden issues. There are a lot of factors at work that make each individual the way they are. In our traditional Malawian culture transgender is a difficult thing to understand or respect as it challenges our ideas of gender. If you do have a friend, colleague or relative who is transgender, there a few things that you can do understand and not offend them. Respect their gender identity, if this is someone who has transitioned genders then be wary of how to refer to them in the past tense, use language appropriate to their gender, if you are unsure on what to do then ask them! Don’t be afraid, they are still the same person that you knew.
Marcela Romero, a Latin American transgender woman and an advocate of transgender rights, said at a meeting, “The international community has an important role to play in addressing the human rights violations we are facing. They need to place human rights at the centre of their political dialogues and negotiations. They must call for an end to impunity for human rights violations and challenge criminal legislation that is being used to prosecute people on the basis of their gender identity, sexual orientation or HIV status.”