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Bringing Sexuality And Rights Out In The Open Building A Platform In Bangladesh

Bringing Sexuality and Rights Out
in the Open: Building a Platform in
               Sabina Faiz Ras...
• How does one bring sexuality and rights
  issues out into the open, particularly in an
  environment of conse...
• Lack of protection of sexual rights of
  homosexuals, transgender groups by the

• Results in harassm...

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Bringing Sexuality And Rights Out In The Open Building A Platform In Bangladesh

  1. 1. Bringing Sexuality and Rights Out in the Open: Building a Platform in Bangladesh Sabina Faiz Rashid Mahrukh Mohiuddin Farah Mahjabeen James P Grant School of Public Health BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh May 18-19, 2009
  2. 2. Background • How does one bring sexuality and rights issues out into the open, particularly in an environment of conservatism and culture of silence in the country? • There is a culture of collective denial of the existence of same sex sexualities in Bangladesh, therefore stifling any public debate about same sex sexualities in the country.
  3. 3. Background • Lack of protection of sexual rights of homosexuals, transgender groups by the State • Results in harassment, silence, shame and fear around any discussions regarding sexuality, pushing many issues underground
  4. 4. Create open climate • Since 2007 working to create a climate for open discussions on sexuality and rights at a larger scale • Embarked on a series of activities, including workshops, conferences, meetings, training and research activities with different stakeholders • Trying to put in place mechanisms for monitoring influence on policy and practice – working with core groups, participants of workshops/ training activities
  5. 5. Workshop, International Conference • Local workshop in 2007 – Assess what is the interest? What is the situation? – Informal networks – huge response, realization that many groups were interested in pushing forward the platform • CREATE PUBLIC VISIBILITY ON SEXUALITY • International conference in 2007 – University hosting provided legitimacy – 150 participants (Dhaka and outside); international speakers – Presence of BOB; transgender community – Positive response and widespread coverage
  6. 6. Interest generated from… • Interest shown by International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) to FUND the School to continue building a platform on Sexuality and Rights in the country • Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights (CSBR) invited School to become member of its international coalition • Two staff at School funded by IWHC and CSBR to receive training on Sexuality and Rights in 2007 and 2008
  7. 7. Focusing on Core groups • Target three core groups - academics from outside Dhaka; media persons (journalists), and sexual minority groups – Academics - Share materials with academic and students on sexuality and rights; develop education/training modules – Journalists - Encourage more writings by journalists on sexuality (award system) – Sexual minority groups – build capacity and space to argue, and build own agenda to fight for basic rights
  8. 8. Research and building a CORE network • RESEARCH on sexuality and rights in 2008 to understand local constructions of sexuality and rights – inform workshops and research and advocacy efforts. • Brainstorming session with network of core actors working in or interested in taking forward sexuality rights issues • Mental health professionals, researchers, academics, activists, queer groups, students, journalists, ad agencies, clinical psychologist (practitioners), and health educators (SMC), health activists, lawyers
  9. 9. Organized training workshops • Media and Sexuality and Rights (March 2009) – Journalists, ad agencies, Salma Sobhan journalists • Gender, Sexuality and Rights (May 2009) – Participants from core group – Network - researchers, academics from outside of Dhaka; clinical psycho-therapists, NGO professionals, Activists, BOB, self identified ‘lesbian women’; transgender groups; students, health educators, sex workers union, garment workers union, lawyers, School counsellor Pre and post evaluation questionnaires to monitor and track changes, progress (individual, work and community
  10. 10. Some successes • CD resource pack - a compilation of all the presentations from the International conference in 2007. – CD was distributed to more than 150 participants all over Bangladesh and internationally • A database of participants/core network – Received emails and phone calls from activists and researchers from within and outside of Dhaka asking for materials and resources. – Academics outside of Dhaka specifically requested for more training to develop their own modules on sexuality. – Clinical psychologists and doctors expressed interest in receiving training to be sensitized to sexual minorities; requests from journalists.
  11. 11. Some successes • Rajshahi and Khulna University academics will be sharing materials/resources and possibly offering sessions on sexuality and rights in respective departments this year • MPH program at the James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University has been integrating sexuality and rights within reproductive health course – Also in module taught at the Masters of International Health and Society at Charite, Berlin.
  12. 12. Some successes • Research • Sensitizing of groups; created a space for frank and honest discussions amongst respondents themselves. • Significant interest generated among the students in terms of wanting to know more about sexual diversity and rights, and its linkage to health and wellbeing. • Main successes of the research approach was gaining credibility and trust among the sexual minority groups. – Utilising some members from the queer community to gain access to ‘underground’ members of the communities who were more reluctant to participate directly. – Ensured better confidentiality and anonymity of the participants
  13. 13. Some successes • Gay and lesbian rights groups - very reserved and cautious in terms of allowing access to people outside of their communities has trust in the School – Invited to a two day workshop (Sexual Diversity and Coalition Building) organized by a gay rights activists group. This was an unpublicized meeting with important representatives from the LGBT communities aiming to build a network – School has been approached to provide support/venue for their trainings and access to resource materials for their members – A more striking indicator of success in breaking some of the silence was the presence of two members of the ‘lesbian’ community at the Gender workshop in May 2009
  14. 14. Tracking of participants • Tracking of participants – Pre/post evaluation questionnaires • Challenges remain • How does one develop appropriate methodologies to measure/track impact on an issue which is socially taboo and considered invisible in the larger environment? • There is an absence of a larger movement on sexuality among mainstream advocacy and activist organizations. – In the NGO sector, development interventions that address reproductive and sexual rights are health- focused with the rights approach largely missing. – Realization of the importance of a rights-based approach exists, but not been translated into practice.
  15. 15. Challenges • Moreover, sexual minorities struggle to cope with violence in the public sphere, especially by the police which, instead of protecting them, routinely subject them to violence, extortion and sexual abuse. • In the case of transgender groups, the situation is complicated by the fact that they cannot have passports as they don’t fall neatly into binary categories of male or female. • Time, resources and capacity
  16. 16. Despite this…some achievements • Successful in creating a new space for open and frank discussions on sexuality and rights in the wider sphere. • ‘Now we are sitting together with all of you and talking about these issues…thanks to James P Grant School… who else has done this? member of transgender community • When I sit in the University canteen… next time someone makes fun of someone who is they think is gay…I will explain to them how important it is respect sexual diversity…student club forum leader
  17. 17. Achievements • A key to the success has been the ability in bringing increasing numbers of people from diverse backgrounds, including those who are usually invisible or silenced, to come together, speak freely, and critically reflect on sexuality and rights issues
  18. 18. Conclusions • While this is going to be a long transition, we have managed to create an initial platform which we hope will lead to the foundations for institutional building of various groups in the larger society. • The mandate to push forward the agenda on sexuality and rights has also created opportunities for future collaboration and networks, which in the long run may give way to specific policy changes in the country.