Transgender People Advocate For Equal Space

“Gender based violence is one of the biggest challenges that we face in Zimbabwe, yet the law is invisible on our rights,” she said.

By Michelle Chifamba

In the high density suburb of Mufakose, 28-year-old Norren Nyaruwata* said she eventually changed her name from Enock- to suit her identity as a woman trapped in a male body.

Norren, a law student with the Midlands State University (MSU) recalls the agony that she went through from a young age of eight when she started to discover that she was different from other boys her age.

“There was a little girl in me who wanted to scream out, but I could not. I did not understand what was happening to me.  I was being addressed as a boy- but I felt feminine.”

“Boys in my class when we went to the boys toilet they would come at me and force me to use the urinary. I felt feminine- I could not, I wanted to seat on the toilet-seat. ”

“After school, some boys in my class would wait for me outside the gate. They would touch my private parts- my bums and kiss my lips. As young as I was I could not understand what was happening, but it was hell,” Norren said.

“I hated every part of me- why was I born like this I would wonder,” she added.

Norren is a transgender in Zimbabwe- born a male but expresses herself as female- forming part of approximately 400 other people like her who exist in this country.

Transgender is a term that is used to describe people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth- a transgender person may identify as a woman despite having been born with male gentiles, or as a man despite being born with female gentiles.

According to trans-gender activists-most transgender people have to undergo the process of trans-sexual were they have to take medication to further develop their hormones that suit their gender identity.

In some cases undergo a surgery that would change their sexual organ to suit the gender expression.

According to Trans and Intersex Rising Zimbabwe, program manager Bee (Chihera) Pollan, the greatest challenge that trans- people in Zimbabwe face is the huge cost of transitioning.

“Most of them come from low income families that cannot afford trans-sexual surgery that is only carried out in South Africa. At the same time some families do not believe that the surgery is a necessity, they think that it is a curse that their child ended up that way,” Pollan said.

Trans and Intersex Rising Zimbabwe notes that trans- people undergo several challenges that include the cost of hormonal therapy, lack of awareness and education and gender based violence.

In Zimbabwe hormonal therapy is only administered by a few doctors- less than five the whole country who are in private practice.

The doctors – according to transgender activists do not have machines that can be used for surgery. They only assist by monitoring the administration of hormonal therapy drugs.

“Due to the high cost of the drugs- which cost approximately US$20 or 200 Rand for a dosage that lasts a month-  most of the trans-people end up buying their drugs from backyard pharmacies.”

“Trans-women end up taking family planning pills for their hormones, while trans-men take testosterone supplements usually taken by male body builders to increase their hormone levels,” said Pollan.

“Self-medication has been a challenge to many transgender people. Without a proper monitoring system from an experienced health professional- some end up taking double their dosage. In some cases they would want to quickly increase their hormone levels, and this ends up damaging their vital organs such as kidneys, liver and the heart,” Pollan added.

Apart from experiencing the cost of hormonal therapy- activists note that many trans-people are denied their fundamental rights to equality, dignity, health and security of being.

Despite the Constitution offering some form of protection under section 56 which stipulates that all persons are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, trans people continue to face legal and citizenship challenges in addition to stigma and discrimination.

“Transgender people face discrimination and stigma. They experience human rights violations that include violence, harassment and being subjected to intrusive examinations,” Pollan said.

The USAID- Zimbabwe defines Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as violence directed at an individual based on biological sex, gender identity or socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity.

Marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities, and those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community are at a higher risk of experiencing GBV.

In most cases trans-people have suffered gender based violence from people who are close to them in the form of correctional rape from their family and friends.  Even the law enforcement agents like the police.

“Trans-people undergo physical abuse from every level of the society. I know of instances when even the police would harass trans-people, inserting their button sticks in our buttocks- as a form of correctional rape,” Pollan said.

“As a result of knowledge gaps that exist in all facets of society from family, school and church up to the national and state level a cycle of stigma and discrimination has been created among the transgender in Zimbabwe,” she added.

According to a 2015 research, on gender based violence by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida),   most countries including Zimbabwe, experience trans-phobia:  a prejudice directed at people whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to social norms and expectations.

Transphobia is a socially created attitude, similar in nature to racism, sexism or religious intolerance. It contributes to the marginalization of trans-people and gender non-conforming people.

In some contexts trans-women are legally identified as male and are unable to change their gender on identification cards and passports.

“Many trans-gender in Zimbabwe are facing a huge challenge changing their gender- markers on official documents. The gender category for trans-people is not officially acknowledged in Zimbabwe and many are forced to identify as either male or female on official documents although they are not living as such,” Pollan said.

“The constitution of Zimbabwe needs to have a provision for trans-people to change their gender markers on their identification documents, ” she added.

Trans- activists say: Like other human beings, trans-people live in multiple contexts, and their lives are informed by a complex web of dynamics. There is need to understand their dynamics in order to design appropriate program responses.

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