On Transgender Human Rights Issues in Africa
My name is Juliet Victor Mukasa, I am a Human Rights Defender working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender liberation in my home country of Uganda and across Africa. I am the chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG.
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As a person who is attracted physically and emotionally to other women and a transgender, issues that African women and trangenders are facing are of particular concern to me. That is what I am here to speak to you about: my life and the lives of many transgenders across Africa.
The one thing that all transgender people have in common, is that we do not fit into traditional gender categories. I am transgender.
We’re taught that that a human being must behave, present themselves, dress and so on in only two ways…male or female. There are rules that govern genders, unfortunately. Such gender rules include:
-How a man should dress in order to appear masculine;
-What types of jobs are fitting for a woman
-That a woman must only be in a relationship with another man, not with a woman
These rules to govern our behavior are socially constructed, meaning that they are not “natural”, they are rules made up by people, sometimes with horrible punishments for not following them.
In Africa, transgender people are seriously punished for being who they are. While still with my parents, I was always beaten by my father for “behaving” like a boy. In school, the same story. While peeing one day my neighbours daughter found me peeing while squatting and she screamed like she had seen a monster. I became the laughing stock of the village and I expelled myself because of the humiliation. I could speak the whole day about the discomforts. I have suffered in life more because I am a transgender than a lesbian.
All trans people that I have interacted with mention such or even worse moments in their lives. It can be a very deep violation of our being to be forced to perform our gender differently than we want it and feel it for ourselves.
Some people, like myself, are born with a sense of ourselves as male in some ways, even though we are biologically female.
As a transgender person, I am constantly demanded to explain and justify why I am not fitting into other people’s idea of what a woman or a man should be.
As a Human Rights Defender, I am working to protect the space for people to exist freely without facing harassment, threat, or violence for not fitting into traditional gender categories.HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION FOR TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN AFRICAHuman Rights Abuses and Violations
I can give specific examples :
• Raped to prove that you are really a woman
• At school: public assembly and humiliation: beaten
• Thrown out of family home
• Thrown out of subsequent homes by landlords
• Lose job because feel violated wearing a skirt
• Psychological Effects of Abuse: Depression, Anger, Drinking, Suicide
• Daily level: holding full bladder for 12-18 hours
• Being undressed and humiliated:
o By government: To get passport
o In church – I was once stripped naked as in naked!, in church, before a multitude of people. The pastor ‘saw’ a spirit of a young man inside me and they burnt my clothes and shoes in order to kill the male spirit.
o By Police: humiliation, mocking, mistreatmentSuccesses:
1. In Uganda: Tremendous energy and anger of activists
Many LGBTs are ready to rise up. For example some transgender men are dressing up in drag and declare they have had enough.
2. The first specifically Transgender organization on the continent: Gender DynamiX. Located in Cape Town, South Africa.
3. We are claiming language and claiming spaces
Sometimes it is even difficult for us to understand ourselves because the world has been constructed to make us completely invisible
4. Finding Words to Use for Ourselves: He She CheIllustration of Why We Need Your Support
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), is an organization made up of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights Defenders. Many of us in leadership in this organization are women and several of us are transgender.
We face many challenges:
In Uganda, on a weekly basis, gay men are blackmailed and face detention if they do not pay a bribe to be released. This has become a business which the police benefit from. The basic Human Rights of LGBT people are completely disregarded in this process as the police abuse our rights.
Many of us do not receive protection from the police when we are facing violations of our rights by the surrounding community.
One of SMUG’s primary emphases in our work plan for this year is sensitising the police and creating a better working relationship with them.
By having the support, awareness, and protection of international Human Rights bodies, we will be much more effective in this endeavor.
Through our work, we aim to help people to realise the ways in which we are all connected, whether straight or LGBT, the societal rules governing what a woman has to be like and what a man has to be like hurt us all. Needs
We are an Invisible Population when it comes to Protection.
There is almost NO research to understand transgender people’s lives in Africa.
We have an undocumented history and are still invisible.
The secrecy and covert nature of our work in Africa also makes us invisible to the larger gender and human rights sector, and to each other.And almost NO action in this area to protect people who do not fit into traditional gender categories.And Yet We are Highly Visible and Highly Vulnerable to DiscriminationTransgender people have the potential to radically challenge discriminatory practice in a way that helps to free all people from sexism
• People who cross gender boundaries make transformation of society more possible, make gender transgressions more acceptable and enable societal gender transformation
• We - the transgender community- have a right to tell our stories and have them heard, and to have our lives protected
• Mainstream Human Rights organizations, for the most part, are not accepting or protecting us on any level
• As people from all over the world who are concerned about human rights and gender injustice, we need to work together to protect our most vulnerable Human Rights DefendersWHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. Research and Understand the complex self-identification of transgender people in Africa.
2. More effectively monitor human rights situations abuses and violations against Transgender People
(such as systematic rape, intimidation, forced undressing, and economic exclusion).
3. Educate the UN bodies and its partners about transgender concerns.
4. Provide training, support, and protection to transgender Human Rights Defenders and allies.
5. Put pressure on local governments, donors, economic powers and human rights institutions to:
-Provide Protection for Those who do not fit into traditional gender categories
-Recognize the way in which transgender people add to the freedom of expression and quality of life of all people.
Juliet Victor Mukasa
Chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)
ILGA Board representative for AfricaAudio link