Accept third gender in schools, society, says transgender rights activist

“I have been visiting Kerala for the past eight years, presenting papers, talking to the transgender community and the public at large and nothing tangible has been done for the community,” says Kalki Subramaniam, transgender rights activist, author, artist, entrepreneur and also founder, Sahodari Foundation.

Kalki Subramaniam, transgender rights activist

Kalki Subramaniam, transgender rights activist

The first-ever official census of third gender persons (TG) in the country in 2014 revealed some startling facts. The number of transgenders willing to be counted as the third gender for the census was 490,000. Of these 55,000 were children. The only state that did not have a census of its transgender community was Kerala.

The Department of Social Justice (SJD) in Kerala recently conducted a survey to  understand the needs, priorities, and aspects of TG's social, economic, and personal life.  More than 4000 TGs provided feedback of which 99 percent were male to female (M2F) TGs and 63 percent were TGs married to females. Based on the accepted snowballing techniques, the survey estimates the presence of more than 25,000 TGs in the state.

To enforce the constitutional rights of TGs taking into account the Supreme Court judgment (2014), and based on the findings of the Kerala State TG Survey, the government of Kerala has prepared a draft policy for TG through a consultative process. The major findings of the survey are provided in the draft policy of the state. This policy was placed on SJD’s webpage for comments from the public, and is now under review at the higher levels of government.

The TG Policy supports the attainment of:  A just society where men, women, and TGs have equal rights to access development opportunities, resources, and benefits; the right to live with dignity and enjoy a life free from all forms of violence; the right to freedom of expression in all matters that affects them; and Right to equal voice and participation in key development decisions that shape their lives, communities, and the state.

In this background, Subramaniam is happy to be invited to talk about the issue at the Kerala government’s first-ever global conference on gender equality to be held in partnership with UN Women, from 12-14 Novembe 2015. The summit titled ‘International Conference on Gender Equality’ (ICGE -1) will be held at Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram district. Several distinguished thought leaders, social activists, research scholars and policymakers from the country and around the world are participating in the conference.

Subramaniam says that transgenders are marginalised not only in society but in their homes and families on account of their gender. "Families ostracise their children when they know they belong to a third gender. Transgenders have to encounter verbal abuse, psychological and sometimes physical violence too in their homes first and later in society. In schools, students and teachers treat them differently and children are forced to or give up studies."

Most transgenders migrate to other cities in search of jobs and end up as sex workers, says Subramaniam. “With no education and job skills, they are forced to beg,” she said.

At the November 2015 global conference on gender equality in Kerala, Subramaniam would like to bring the focus on the government and suggest initiatives that can bring about a change with government-backed sensitivity programs. She says if provisions are made in the law for using stringent measures against those who ill-treat transgenders, many families and society will learn to respect and treat transgenders differently than they do now.

Subramaniam says that one of her grievances is with regard to safety issues of the community. “The number of gender-based violence is India is on the rise and in the case of transgenders, it is a matter of grave concern.”

Inclusive policy needed

The government should come out with awareness programs in educational institutes, says Subramaniam. “But first the educators must be educated. In the curriculum for teacher’s training, a module on transgenders should be included. Teachers and administrative bodies in schools and universities need to be sensitized about the third gender. The government should make provisions that enables education for transgenders.”

Kalki says job reservation for transgenders is not an issue as of now. "We need education, first. The literacy rate of transgenders is very low in the country. We face a lot of harassment from the police. There are no awareness programmes at police academics on how to treat transgenders. When all sections of society are sensitised to transgenders, the violence against the third community will be reduced greatly,” says Subramaniam.

Kerala-UN Conference

According to a recent data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the long-term low and declining female work participation rates in India is an issue of serious concern. Data from the NSS 68th Round shows that about 74.7 of rural women and 84.5 urban women are not part of the labor force as of 2011-12, despite a significant increase in the number of girls/women attending educational institutions since 2000. The study also indicated that higher rates of literacy and health did not necessarily translate into growth of paid employment or upward occupational mobility for women as seen in the case of states like Goa, Kerala and Mizoram.

The three-day conference titled 'Gender, Governance and Inclusion' is touted to be the country's first such large-scale exercise in creating an environment to share global knowledge and experiences in reducing gender inequalities. It will discuss issues ranging from citizenship, globalisation, work, governance, health, education, disability and the role of media. The conference is being organized by The Gender Park, an institution under Kerala's Department of Social Justice.

Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women's Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka is confident that the global conference ‘will spur renewed political commitment and re-energise action on gender equality’. While acknowledging that there are pressing gender equity issues that need to be addressed, Dr. P T M Sunish, CEO, The Gender Park is hopeful that the conference will provide the ideal platform for just that besides generating ideas that can be built on and implemented successfully at both the national and international levels.


Updated Date: Oct 27, 2015 11:44 AM

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