Workshop with Women's Rights Activists
April 3-4, 2010
Background and Overview
A two-day orientation workshop on LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Third Gender, Intersexed) issues was held on 3-4 April 2010 at Dhulikhel Lodge Resort. The workshop was organized by Saathi with support from AWID Forum while it was attended by key women's rights activists, LGBTI activists, legal experts, lecturer (gender), community leaders, youth and media. Altogether 30 participants participated in the workshop. The workshop was facilitated by Bandana Rana while technical expertise was provided by Honorable CA Member Sunil Babu Pant and LGBTI activists from Blue Diamond Society.
The workshop aimed to orient key women's rights activists on LGBTI issues and help them initiate a broader and positive debate and dialogue so that the issue can be addressed within the agenda of women's movement and thereby, strengthen advocacy to bring about necessary policy and legislative changes to address issues of sexuality.
The workshop offered conceptual clarity among women's rights activists on LGBTI issues. The workshop allowed the participants to put forth their queries, confusions, curiosities regarding LGBTI and while it provided LGBTI groups a platform to share their personal experiences, struggles, difficulties, and discrimination and ostracism they have to suffer from their own family, friends, and society at large while affirming their sexuality and urge for the inclusion of LGBTI issues within the agenda of Human Rights. Moreover, the workshop was able to make the participants understand that the LGBTI issue is not baseless rather it has scientific basis and it has been proved that 10% of the populations are homosexual. As well, the workshop was able to bring out personal commitments from each participant to initiate positive dialogue among their peers, organizations' members and attempts for the advancement of LGBTI rights.
The thematic areas of the workshop were Conceptual Clarity on LGBTI, Breakout Sessions on Confusions, Fear, and Concerns, how science understands sexuality and gender identity, history, religion, culture and sexuality beyond human species and legal mechanisms. Each session was followed by group division and discussion.
Day One: 3rd April 2010
Opening and Welcome Remarks
First of all, Bandana Rana welcomed the participants and thanked them for showing interest to know about the issue of LGBTI and taking their time out to attend the workshop even on the weekend. She also thanked Sunil Babu Pant, resource person, along with the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) team for agreeing to provide their technical expertise. Thereafter, she provided brief information on the objectives of the workshop. Following this, the participants' expectations and objectives were collected and the ground rules were formed to make the workshop successful.
• To have conceptual clarity on LGBT
• To have broad and in-depth knowledge on LGBT and be able to spread positive message about the sexual and gender minority community
• To learn about sexuality and gender
• To build network with participants from different organizations
• To be able to take forward the issue of LGBT as a common concern
• To know the present situation of LGBT Community and their needs and perspective/attitude towards society
• To know how to incorporate the issue of LGBTI within the women's issues as well as in a broader human rights agenda
• To learn real problems faced by the LGBT community and see our roles towards solving them
• To know challenges and future strategies
• To share experiences
• To know how the issues of LGBT will be addressed in the upcoming constitution
Session 1: Conceptual Clarity on LGBTI
The first session aimed to offer the clarity as to what is meant by the terms sexual orientation and gender identity. The session examined the definition of sex, gender, and sexual orientation and discussion on the findings of the Kinsey Research regarding sexual behaviors and practices. The research had been done among 7000 couples, which showed that 10% were strictly homosexuals and 37% were found to have kept homosexual relationships.
During the session, sharing an experience of having seen many homosexuals having heterosexual relationships, a participant asked how that could be possible. In response, Sunil Babu said one of the main reasons behind this is family/social pressure to concede to traditional marriages and conform to societal norms. Moreover, they fantasize of same sex partner while having sexual relation.
Session 2: Breakout Sessions on Confusions, Fears, and Concerns
In this session, the participants were divided into four groups with each group containing a LGBTI activist from Blue Diamond Society. In each group, there was intensive discussion on their confusions, fears and concerns. The activists from BDS discussed the different issues that LGBT face. Following the discussion, each group presented the highlights of their discussion. This included their experiences of violence and abuse, difficulties and discriminations, their struggles for identity, reproduction issues, legal provisions, job opportunities, increasing involvement of LGBTI in prostitution etc. They shared their struggles with self from early age being unable to understand their sexuality, why they were different from others and despite being born as male they wanted to be like female. They were unaware of the existence of different sexual orientations other than heterosexuality. They shared their personal story of being ostracized and how they were forced to quit school and also, stigma and discrimination they suffered from their own family and friends, and how they were denied their rights to affirm their sexuality and their identity, how they are even denied such important rights and privileges as access to public toilets, education, job opportunities.
Session 3: Addressing issues raised at the Breakout Sessions (Case Presentations)
In response to the issue raised regarding reproduction roles, Sunnil Babu said creation does not stop with us, even some heterosexuals are unable to reproduce, we have choice between whether to lead our present life happily or to destroy both lives and live with guilt forever for sustaining lineage, and moreover, 99% sexual practices are for sexual satisfaction. Talking about how nature balances he shared a research finding that uncle/aunt of family having homosexual children have been found more sexually active. Similarly, in response to a concern put forth whether giving rights to homosexuals/third gender increases in their number, Sunil Babu said while taking about sexuality no one can be forced to be other than what they are. Answering the query on why LGBTs are found involved in prostitution, all homosexuals are not sex workers but despite this there is increasing involvement of LGBTs in prostitution and the main reason behind this is because of denial of education opportunities, which consequently limits job opportunities. Moreover, they are stigmatized, discriminated. Also in a question on why they look different he answered they are different that's why they look different.
The day concluded with the showing of a documentary which depicted the struggles, discrimination, violence and abuse, LGBTIs have to face.
Session 1: How science understands sexual orientation and gender identity
The day started with a recap of the previous day.
The second session focused on how science understands sexual orientation and gender identity, where Sunil Babu presented the findings of MRI of the brain of homosexual and heterosexual men and women. The MRI showed that symmetry of homosexual brain resembles that of opposite sex. Stating that it is natural to be homosexual/third gender he said that 10% of the population is born homosexual/third gender. Also, giving examples of renowned homosexual personalities from Bollywood as well as Hollywood, he stated that homosexuals have been found more creative in artistic field.
Session 2: History, Religion, Culture, and Sexuality beyond Human Species
Tracing the history, he said that the issues of LGBT are not recently raised issue rather it existed from long time. He traced the existence of the LGBT from the time immemorial. Citing examples of religious texts and showing the images of different deities transcending gender he presented the issues of LGBT from religious perspective. Similarly, citing examples of Maruni (traditionally a male dancer in female attire) and Gaijatra festival, he showed the cultural aspects of LGBT.
Session 3: Legal Mechanisms
The second session featured some legal provisions and international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Stating the basis for "sexual orientation" as a prohibited category of discrimination in international law he said that the principle of nondiscrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is embodied in the Charter of United Nations the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural rights. Despite this, sharing several instances of Metis (homosexuals and third gender) being severely beaten, tortured, abused, and arrested arbitrarily for a sole cause of being meti and gathering in public places he showed how they have been denied their fundamental rights to freedom, movement, and moreover right to lead a violence free life.
During the session, he also shared achievements such as recognition of rights and citizenship with the inclusion of the third gender in the personal identification cards, passports, and other legal documents.
Key Messages for Advocacy and Awareness
At the end of the workshop, the participants came up with a succinct statement of their understanding and key advocacy messages to be included by the women's movement. They are:
• It is natural to be born homosexual/third gender and it has scientific basis.
• A study has shown that 10% of the population is born homosexual/third gender.
• All should have right to lead a dignified life free of violence and discrimination regardless of their sexuality and sexual orientation.
• The state should ensure that third gender gets to enjoy their right to identity as per their sexuality/sexual orientation.
• Provided the equal opportunities, homosexuals/Third gender can also make significant contribution as much as heterosexuals to the society.
Furthermore, it was stressed on the need to aware and sensitize every strata of society i.e. family, school teachers, community, religious leaders, politicians, decision makers and most importantly, media in order to bring a transformative change rather than simply palliative. Finally, the participants expressed their personal commitments to take the agenda forward in every possible way.
Bandana Rana expressed her thanks to BDS team and all the participants in making the event successful and also acknowledged the support from AWID Forum for the workshop. She encouraged the participants to share the knowledge gained at the workshop within their networks and community and share it with Saathi.
Voices from the Workshop...
"I believe these kinds of workshops and mass sensitization will help raise issues of third gender which will ultimately ensure their human rights in today's society." Shardha Suman Thapa, Lecturer, Gender Studies, Tribhuvan University
"It is note worthy that a workshop on such a sensitive issue has been organized. The knowledge from the workshop will help me to raise awareness in my community where presence of third gender is not acknowledged." Prisma Singh Tharu, President, Tharu Women Upliftment Centre
"This workshop has changed my perception towards the third gender. The issue has been internalized and the workshop was indeed very interesting and effective". Babita Basnet, President, Sancharika Samuha
"I have understood the issue of third gender and now it's my responsibility to make others understand". Seema Khan, President Nepal Muslim Women Welfare Society
"Never has a program like this been organized. Keep it up". Sushila Lama, Blue Diamond Society
Follow-up programs after the workshop
Following the workshop, some of the participants conducted orientation classes on LGBTI issues based on the key messages formulated during the workshop in their organizations as well as in local communities. Also, an article was published in a weekly paper.
Biswas Nepal conducted two orientation classes for its board members and staffs on 6th April 2010. A total of 17 participants were present in the orientation. Also, Janahitaishi, a community based organization conducted two classes for community people.
Similarly, Tharu Women Welfare Society, a local NGO based in Bardiya, and Saathi Kapilvastu conducted the programs in Kapilvastu and Bardiya, western part of Nepal on 13th and 14th of May respectively.
Of the total population of Nepal, homosexual/sexual minority/third gender constitutes about 8.10% and the majority of which is believed to have been dwelling in the Bardiya District. In the program organized by Tharu Women Welfare Society, a total of 32 participants were present. The main purpose of the program was to aware the community on the LGBTI issues and bring a behavior change and develop a positive attitude towards third gender.
While in the interaction program organized in Kapilvastu, altogether 30 participants including representatives from different local NGOs, counselors, media and members of a local network of LGBTs participated. During the program, the members from the network shared the discrimination LGBT people and even their family members have to face and further, pointed out the prevalence of child marriage as one of the main reasons behind the violation of human rights of LGBT. It was stressed on the need to develop support mechanism for LGBT and also to bring legislative measures to end discrimination against them. Moreover, it was also stated that the state should take initiative to ensure the confidentiality of LGBTI people's identity.