New Delhi: According to the World Health Orgnisation (WHO), while transgender people are around 13 times more likely to be HIV-positive than other adults of reproductive age, they have low rates of access to health services due to a range of issues including violence, legal barriers, stigma and discrimination. Furthermore, transgender people may experience family rejection and violation of their rights to education, employment and social protections. On this World AIDS Day, the team of Banega Swasth India speaks with Shreegauri Sawant, Transgender Activist and Trustee, Sai Savli Foundation Trust to understand why inclusion and diversity are key to ending inequalities and ending AIDS.
Shreegauri Sawant started a community kitchen for transgenders under the initiative called Sakhi Char Chaughi in Malad, Mumbai with an aim to provide a nutritious meal to transgender people. She said,
Most of the transgenders who are involved in sex work struggle for a nutritious meal on a daily basis. Sometimes even hotels discriminate against them and don’t allow them inside. So, we started this community kitchen to provide at least one proper meal a day.
She started an initiative called Sakhi Char Chaughi in 2000 in Mumbai to promote safe sex and provide counselling to transgender people. While talking about the socio-economic reasons for the high prevalence of HIV in Maharashtra and the needs of the transgender community, she said,
I started my journey in 1999 and I am still working on HIV. In 1999, the prevalence was only 6-7 per cent which has now increased to 8-9 per cent which is high. We have failed to reduce the prevalence of HIV in our community. Just providing condoms cannot be the solution to fighting HIV. We need to understand the actual needs of the community. Female sex workers, transgenders and migrants are worst affected by HIV. Access to food, shelter, health services, clean and safe toilets are needed. The vulnerable communities also need financial help for those who lost livelihood due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transgenders were recognised as ‘Third Gender’ with equal rights by the Supreme Court of India in 2014. However, they still face discrimination. According to Shreegauri Sawant, the stigma still persists because society is still not ready to integrate transgenders and sex workers and those with HIV face double discrimination. She said,
There is a lack of advocacy about HIV/AIDS in India. The community knows that we are sex workers and so it is very much possible that one day we may get infected. We don’t have discrimination within the community. The stigma is from the others.
Talking about the measures required to tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS among transgenders, she said that the government has to look after the transgenders and sex workers and their needs – good quality of condoms, Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) – which we are not getting, especially because of the pandemic. She urged the government to focus on the needs and ground realities of the sex workers and transgender community to tackle HIV.
Highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transgender community, she said,
COVID-19 has negatively impacted the transgender community. Livelihood of sex workers was lost during COVID-19 pandemic. Not all the sex workers who lost their source of income got financial help from the government. If I won’t get food to eat, will I think about medicines?
Shreegauri Sawant, who is the goodwill ambassador of the Election Commission in Maharashtra, believes that by exercising their voting right, transgender people can change their state for the better. She is now working to raise awareness among transgenders on the right and duty of exercising voting. She has so far registered 700 people under the Election Commission.
Talking further about the need for inclusion she said,
For Transgenders being sex workers is the only way to fight hunger. They are part of our society, don’t shun them, accept them, understand their issues and then work out solutions.
She signed off saying that just as the country has succeeded in eradicating Polio, there is a need to do away with HIV/AIDS. She said that it is sad that after so many years of advocacy, World AIDS Day is still observed.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.