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IDAHOT panelists and moderator: From left: Noelene Nabulivou (DAWN), Reverend Akuila Yabaki (CCF), Ashwin Raj (USP academic) and Mereia Carling (moderator). Photo courtesy of USP Development, Marketing and Communications Office.
Call for the Legal Recognition of Trans People in Fiji

in FIJI, 16/05/2013

Today, Friday May 17, marks the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). This day is meant to raise awareness about the issues of ongoing discrimination and violence committed by states, societies and individuals against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people on various scales, from homo and transphobic legislations and forms of state repression to hate crimes including insults, attacks and murders. IDAHOT is observed by more than 70 countries around the world.

In April of this year, a submission was made by the Amithi Fiji Project to the Attorney General’s Office in Suva as part of assessment and feedback on the new Draft Fiji Constitution. This submission calls for the legal recognition of Trans People in Fiji. This was done in the hopes of securing in the new Draft Constitution the creation of a Safe, Secure and Equal Fiji for ALL Fijians based on the principles of a common and equal citizenry, social justice and the elimination of discrimination.

In Fiji, trans people continue to face harassment, discrimination, humiliation, condemnation and degradation based on their Gender Identity and Expression. Those in the trans community who are ostracised and discriminated against are prohibited access to basic rights for services such as health and medical care, education, public transport, employment opportunities and legal justice.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Fiji Police Force has neither the competency nor the empathy to deal with Trans people and that a significant number of police officers are extremely transphobic and homophobic.

This means there is no avenue of redress for trans people to report crimes of gender-based violence projected towards them, crimes that are occurring on a daily basis. Violence comes in many forms that includes verbal abuse (name calling), snickering as well as psychological and physical abuse.

A community based research carried out by the Amithi Fiji Project for the AIDS Task Force of Fiji in 2011 revealed that 30.3% of feminine males and transgenders had been hurt physically during the past 6 months of the research period due to their Gender identity and Expression. This evidence shows a disturbing trend, and the study confirms gender-based violence is very high towards this subsection of the community in Fiji.

Trans people are often confused with being gay or homosexual. A person’s sexual orientation is separate and distinct from their gender identity and expression. Transgender and gender-variant people in Fiji have borne the burden of being labelled immoral, wrong, gay or homosexual when they themselves have not identified with these labels.

Religion has often been cited in Fiji as a way to legitimize and justify the promotion of discrimination, hatred and violence towards marginalised communities, particularly towards those individuals who are gender non confirmative.

Based on a literature review of the three major religions in Fiji, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, it has been established that these religions are in fact, by their own writings, supportive and accepting of Trans people. Historically, transgenderism has played a very important role in religion and spirituality.

The Christian faith’s New and Old Testaments include references to gender-variant identities. Eunuchs (Greek eunochos) are indicated as acceptable candidates for evangelism and baptism, as demonstrated in a story about the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch in the Book of Acts. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks directly about eunuchs: “For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it let him receive it.”

In the Islamic faith, the term mukhannathun is used to describe gender-variant people, usually male-to-female transsexuals. “A mukhannath is the one who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman, to whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame. Neither this term nor the equivalent term for "eunuch" occurs in the Qur'an, but it does appear in the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, which have a secondary status to the central text.

The Hindu philosophy has the concept of a third sex or gender tritiya-prakriti – literally, "third nature". This category includes a wide range of people with mixed male and female natures such as transgender persons, homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, and the intersexed.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Consultation on HIV, STI and other Health Needs of Transgender People in Asia and the Pacific in Manila, Philippines, September 2012 strongly recommended that “Transgender people should be legally recognized as having equal rights and dignity, which are and should be protected under the law, with passage of protective legislation to contribute to a climate of acceptance and equality. Transgender people should have the right to legal recognition of their gender identity, and the recognition of gender status should not depend on medical treatment or surgical procedures.

We do not stand here today to seek acceptance for our existence but are here to reclaim our space and a legal identity in our own country. We are free spirits, free to live and free to love and free to be who we are - vakasalewalewa, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, gender non‐conforming, and intersexed people in the true meaning of an all-inclusive Fiji, one that is committed to our recognition and protection of human rights, our respect of human dignity and our commitment to justice.

About the Project

The Amithi Fiji Project originated under the auspices of the AIDS Task Force of Fiji in 2006. It is now an autonomous and professional project devoted to promoting evidence based care, education, research, advocacy, public policy and respect in transgender and male sexual health.

The vision of the Project is to develop best practices and supportive national policies, which could be replicated in the rest of the Pacific Island states that promote health, research, education, respect, dignity, and equality for sexual minorities, transgender, transsexual, and gender-variant people in all cultural settings.

For further details contact:
Niru Singh
Phone: + 679 8755 621
Email: amithi.fiji.project@gmail.com

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