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COVID-19 makes the bag of woes heavier for marginalized populations

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Shobha Shukla CNS

Prof Dede Oetomo, a widely respected voice for LGBT rights and justice
Prof Dede Oetomo, a widely respected voice for LGBT rights and justice
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Agenda 2030 is a commitment by all countries to achieve sustainable development by 2030 for all, ensuring that no one is left behind, including marginalised communities like LGBT and sex workers. However, the stark reality is that, even in normal times, these vulnerable communities in Asia and the Pacific, often suffer a host of inequities and discriminatory laws. Grappling with stigma and discrimination, they often constitute the populations-on-blindspot when it comes to accessing health services (including sexual and reproductive health services), livelihood, social security and societal acceptance. COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated their situation and driven them to the wall, not just in terms of their physical vulnerability to the disease but also in terms of the above factors.

"Many of us from the LGBT community are experiencing the impact of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on our lives. Recently, I went for my three-monthly HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) tests at the local clinic and found that the STI test was not available as all the nurses were deployed for COVID-19 work. This is just one of the many examples where basic sexual health services for people are not available. Also livelihood has been impacted in a big way. Many trans-women have no connection with their families. So they do not have any safety net and many of them who do busking and/or sex work, are not able to earn..."

These are some of the concerns shared by Professor (Dr) De'de' Oetomo, Adjunct Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Economics, Universitas Surabaya, Indonesia. He is a noted scholar, educator and a longstanding activist in research, education and advocacy in the fields of language and society, HIV/AIDS and sexuality, mainly at GAYA NUSANTARA Foundation, APCOM and the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). He was the keynote speaker at the sixth #APCRSHR10 Dialogues, co-hosted by the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR10) and CNS.

Mental health and well being

In these times, mental health and wellbeing of the gay men has taken a beating, feels Roy Wadia, Regional Communication Adviser at UNFPA Asia Pacific Regional Office (who spoke in his individual capacity). As many of them are ostracised by their families, they depend upon each other for social support. But in the present lockdown times, as they stay indoors and maintain social distancing, this support system which was there in the community in form of safe spaces - like drop in centres - is no longer available to them. This has resulted in a deeper sense of isolation.

Then again, though staying with family might be a good option for many of us in times of such crises, the family may not be a very safe space for those who have been denounced by their own kin due to their nature of work or distinct sexual orientations and gender identities. Sonal Mehta, Regional Director at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) South Asia, voiced her genuine concerns for the safety of lesbians who are at increased risk of getting abused, exploited and violated by their own family members in such a situation.

Livelihood and social security

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