Category Archives: Bandhu BSWS

BANGLADESH: Mixed messages on sex work undermine HIV prevention

Crossposted from IRIN ASIA

 

Sex worker in Bangladesh: “I don’t want to live this life anymore”

DHAKA, 12 October 2010 (IRIN) – Civil society is preparing to challenge a recent government decision in Bangladesh to exclude “prostitution” as a profession on new voter cards on the grounds it effectively blocks sex workers’ access to HIV prevention and life-saving health care.

On 17 August the Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) announced “prostitution” would be recognized for the first time as a profession on new voter ID cards. But pressure from conservative religious groups led the BEC to reverse its decision, according to Shahnaz Begum, president of Sex Workers Network (SWN), a local NGO that works in half of the nation’s 64 districts.

Election commissioner Sohul Hossain told IRIN the term “sex worker” was omitted in order to prevent commercial sex work, in line with Article 18(2) of Bangladesh’s constitution, which states that “gambling and prostitution” should be “discouraged”.

But activists are seizing upon Article 40 of the constitution, which gives citizens the right to “enter upon any lawful profession or occupation”, arguing that women, therefore, can choose sex work as a profession.

This decision is “ripe for a public interest challenge”, said Khaled Chowdhury, a lawyer at the Supreme Court. “Sex work is not illegal, but as moral and social issues are involved, it is not encouraged. The decision of the EC [Electoral Commission] may have an impact [on the acceptance of sex workers], as voter ID cards are now essential in many aspects of a citizen’s life.”

ID cards are necessary to open a bank account, apply for a passport, and to register property. While not required for health services, almost all other government forms require an ID card as proof of identity.

Limited legality

When the government tried to shut down two large brothels in Dhaka, the capital, a decade ago, 100 sex workers fought back – and won. As a result, sex work is now legal for women over 18, pimps and brothel owners.

But the ruling offers sex workers little protection, as police still frequently harass them, which, according to Begum, can lead to unsafe sex practices. “Clients are often taken to a dark alley and the sex workers have to rush because they are on the lookout for police. If sex work was properly recognized they could take the time to convince their clients to use a condom.”

To make matters worse, a sex worker in Dhaka who gave her name and age as Tania, 28, said police often demand half her average daily earnings of US$7. And without police protection, she has little recourse when clients are abusive. “Yesterday a client gagged and beat me. I don’t want to live this life any more.”

Health care

The government has offered no-cost health care to sex workers at designated clinics around the country since 1978, but the Health Ministry reports that only 2,000 sex workers used these services in 2009 (0.5 percent of the 400,000 sex workers the NGO SWN estimates are working nationwide).

Begum said the government’s mixed messages about sex work are hurting the fight against HIV because sex workers who seek medical treatment are often turned away on the grounds they are “bad women”.

A consistent government stance on sex work would help prevent such discrimination, she added. “The legal framework for sex workers exists, but it is not implemented. The mixed public health messages from the government and Election Commission are undoubtedly harmful for reducing the spread of HIV.”

NGO clinics

There are dozens of NGO-run drop-in centres nationwide that provide free HIV counselling, condoms and medicines, and a referral system for HIV testing to sex workers and their clients. IRIN spoke to 10 sex workers: All said they preferred to visit NGO clinics due to the conservative attitudes of public health staff.

In 2007, 67 percent of sex workers reported using a condom with their most recent client, according to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2008 Progress Report.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 2009 estimated HIV prevalence among Bangladesh’s 160 million people was less than 0.1 percent. The rate for sex workers was about 1 percent, according the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

However, the Global Fund warned that a highly mobile population, coupled with poverty and a low level of awareness about HIV, threaten to increase prevalence.

And until the law can protect sex workers and guarantee their access to health care, civil society leaders taking their case to court say that Bangladesh’s status as a low HIV prevalence country may change.

“HIV is not spreading at an alarming rate, but I believe it would decrease further if the government gave [it] full recognition,” said Begum.

Legal protection is one of the issues to be addressed at the first UNAIDS consultation in Asia on sex work and HIV to be held 12-15 October in Pattaya, Thailand.

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One Day, One Struggle: Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies

Parts of the article have been crossposted from ILGHRC website. Get the original articles here

http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/partners/1026.html

http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/partners/1039.html

Hundreds joined forces across the globe to establish a milestone in the struggle for sexual and reproductive rights in Muslim societies
11/20/2009

IGLHRC believes that a vital part of our mission is supporting the work of activist organizations and allies by disseminating important information on human rights issues affecting LGBT communities worldwide. To this end we are reposting the following announcement from one of our partners.

Updates from Bangladesh

On November 9, 2009, a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and activists across the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia carried out “One Day, One Struggle” events to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights. Below are some of the campaign updates, including the national launch of a pioneering research on sexuality and rights; a panel and cultural show on what it means to be a hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh, a discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran, and a queer-straight alliance meeting in Pakistan

Bangladesh: Pioneering research is being done on sexuality and rights in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: The Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS (CGSH) at the James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of BRAC University shared the findings of a pioneering research project on sexuality and rights in urban Bangladesh.

The Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS (CGSH) at the James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of BRAC University shared the findings of a trailblazing research project on sexuality and rights in urban Bangladesh. This exploratory study, the first of its kind, maps the manifold and changing understandings of sexuality, identity and rights among university students, factory workers, and sexual and gender minorities in Dhaka city. Dr. Dina Siddiqi, Sexuality Network Coordinator and Visiting Professor at the CGSH presented research findings on sexuality and rights in Dhaka. Other speakers were Dr. Sabina Faiz Rashid and Dr. Anwar Islam from the James P. Grant School of Public Health, Dr. Hilary Standing from the Realizing Rights Research Consortium, and Dr. Firdous Azim from the BRAC University Department of English and Humanities. A total of approximately 100 participants including journalists from the Bangladesh media, leaders of groups representing people of marginalized sexual orientations, independent researchers, anthropologists, public health professionals and NGO representatives were also present at the panel.

Bangladesh: A First for the Queer Members of Bengali Society

Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) arranged an event titled “Jaago” (Wake-up) with a movie screening followed by an informal public forum targeting the Bangladeshi LGBTT community and its supporters, selected media, other supportive NGOs and the public.

Torch Song Trilogy was screened to a diverse audience and was met with enthusiasm by both queer and straight participants. These two BoB events aimed to increase affirmative awareness and visibility on sexuality, initiate a dialogue around marginalized genders and sexualities, strengthen the bond among the LGBTT community and strengthen the alliance between queer and straight members of Bengali society. One remarkable aspect of these activities was that BoB organized a public event for the first time since its foundation.

Bandhu Social Welfare Organization had a lively discussion on different sexualities and identities as part of the international One Day, One Struggle campaign. In this event, LGBTT community members and their friends shared experiences and ideas about sexuality, identity, norms and freedoms.

Bangladesh: Discussing the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran

Naripokkho organized a panel discussion entitled “Sexuality and Our Rights” which was moderated by Naripokkho member English professor Firdous Azim. Tamanna Khan, the president of Naripokkho and Shuchi Karim, a doctoral student at ISS in the Netherlands working on female sexuality in Bangladesh gave short presentations that were followed by an open discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran. Approximately 30 Naripokkho members participated in this event.

Bangladesh: Being hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh

Kotha from Socheton Shilpi Shongho

Rangberong and Shochaton Shilpa Shangha organized a panel followed by a cultural show, both of which addressed specifically the hijra (transgender) community in Bangladesh. The panel hosted the speakers Ivan Ahmed Katha, the transgender president of the Shochetan Shilpa Shangha Association, Roksana Sultana, a journalist from BBC World, Nasrin Akhter Joli, the Deputy Director of the Hunger Project – Bangladesh and Mumtaz Begum, the former president of the Sex Workers’ Association. Police brutality and other problems faced by hijras on a daily basis were the main discussion topics of the panel. The cultural show afterwards included a musical performance specific to the hijra community that documented “why and how they became hijras, how this played havoc with their lives and how it is that they still love men.”

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International Campaign to Promote Human Rights across Muslim Societies

Crossposted from ILGHRC website

http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/partners/997.html

IGLHRC believes that a vital part of our mission is supporting the work of activist organizations and allies by disseminating important information on human rights issues affecting LGBT communities worldwide. To this end we are reposting the following announcement from one of our partners.

For Immediate Release

Contact: Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways
Email: irazca.geray@wwhr.org
Tel: +90 212 251 00 29

Human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights have been under attack in all Muslim societies. Rising conservatism, fueled by militarism, increasing inequalities, the politicization of religion and Islamophobia have strengthened patriarchal and extremist religious ideologies. For instance, last week a woman in Turkey was asked to get written consent from her rapist in order to have an abortion which is against all existing legal regulations, while a recent bill passed in the Sudan annulled the prohibition of FGM/C and a new legislation in Indonesia’s Aceh now allows for stoning to death as punishment for adultery, while the bodily and sexual rights of Palestinian women continue to be violated in the shadow of the apartheid wall…These examples remind us again that sexuality is not a private issue but a site of political struggle.

On November 9, 2009, a very diverse group of NGOs will stage bold actions in 11 countries to promote human rights. As part of the historic international campaign “One Day One Struggle” organized by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), over 20 organizations will hold simultaneous events and public demonstrations on topics like protesting customary practices such as honor killings and FGM/C, overturning discriminatory and life threatening laws like stoning or lashing of women, and calling for LGBT rights, the right to sexuality education and the right to bodily and sexual integrity of all people.

During the Campaign that promises to be a milestone event in the history of the sexual and reproductive rights movement, hundreds will gather in university campuses in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lebanon and the Sudan, at press conferences in Cyprus, Egypt and Malaysia, in conference and concert halls in Tunisia and Pakistan and on the streets of Turkey and Palestine, to assert that sexual and reproductive rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity and equality of all human beings.

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CSBR is a globally renowned solidarity network of progressive NGOs and premier academic institutions in the Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, working to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights in Muslim societies. www.wwhr.org/csbr.php

To find out more about the Campaign in:

Bangladesh:
Bandhu Social Welfare Organization, Centre for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Naripokkho, Rongberong: sabina@bracu.ac.bd; dmsiddiqi@yahoo.com
Boys of Bangladesh (BoB): xecon27@yahoo.com

Cyprus:
Feminist Workshop (FEMA): feministatolye@gmail.com

Egypt:
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), New Woman Foundation (NWF): eipr@eipr.org

Indonesia:
GAYa NUSANTRA: maria.notes@yahoo.com
Puan Amal Hayati Foundation (PUAN): atashabsjah@yahoo.com

Lebanon:
Meem: lynn@meemgroup.org
Helem: ghassan@helem.net

Maylasia:
Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Empower: vizlakumaresan@yahoo.co.uk

Pakistan:
Vision: ahsan_anwari@hotmail.com
Organization for the Protection and Propagation of the Rights of Sexual Minorities (OPPRSM): kylapasha@gmail.com

Palestine:
Gender Studies Project at MADA Al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research: himmat@mada-research.org
Muntada, The Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education and Health: safa.tamish@gmail.com
Women Against Violence (WAV): aida_touma_slima@hotmail.com; wav_org@hotmail.com

Sudan:
Ahfad University for Women: Amani_elkhatim@yahoo.com

Tunisia:
Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD):ahlembelhadj@gmail.com; childpsy_razi@yahoo.fr

TURKEY:
Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways: irazca.geray@wwhr.org

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Hijras take to Dhaka catwalk in unique awareness campaign

Wed, Aug 19th, 2009 1:00 am BdST

By Fahmida Wadud Chaity

Dhaka, Aug 18 (bdnews24.com)—The audience at a show titled “Agony and Ecstasy,” at the National Museum on Tuesday, were treated to a unique event as Hijras took to the catwalk in a fashion show as part of the programme’s aim to to sensitise the larger community on transgender issues.

The programme, also aiming to create awareness about the risks of HIV/AIDS and drug-use, was organised by the Bandhu Social Welfare Society, which works for the wellbeing of the socially excluded “males and their partners” through the provision of sexual health services, support of their human rights and alternate livelihoods.

Shale Ahmed, executive director of BSWS told bdnews24.com, “They are regularly stigmatised in many ways, which harm their self esteem. They tend to think they are useless. They feel isolated and excluded.”

“This particular programme is a part of our protest against the stigma. It is an effort to make the community feel empowered.”

The fashion show aimed to showcase the Hijra/transgender sense of fashion and style. Their vivid make overs, performance and attitude on the catwalk expressed self-belief and appeal.

“We wanted to give them a sense of empowerment, so that they can feel they too can contribute in the society.”

People from all walks of society attended the “dazzling event”. Tisa, a trendy young member of the audience, said, “I really liked it. It is amazing to think that a Hijra fashion show can take place in Bangladesh.”

The chance to perform in a glitzy fashion show, at the National Museum auditorium, in front of a diverse audience will certainly boost the Hijras’ confidence and at the same time sensitise people about their issues, Shale said.

Asked if BSWS had any intention to promote ‘Hijra culture’ in the larger community, he said, “We are in exactly in the process of doing that. Bringing many of them together from different parts of Bangladesh was very difficult. They were scattered before coming under our umbrella.”

“But those who were interested to work for their own community, we gave them the chance by setting up their own centres.”

The centres, named Shustho Jibon (Healthy Life), are managed by the Hijras themselves. BSWS’s role is to provide logistical support.

The Hijras, who find few opportunities to make a living outside the sex trade, gain self-esteem, vocational and life skills training such as sewing and dancing, as well as information on the risks of drug-use, HIV/AIDS and other STDs through the centres.

Speaking of society’s prevailing attitude to this marginalised and stigmatised community, Shala said, “The way they are, they are. It is not a matter of right or wrong. It is our problem that we cannot accept them.”

BSWS envisions a society where every person, irrespective of their gender and sexuality preferences, is accepted as equal.

Twenty-eight year-old Payel, who took to the catwalk that evening, said, “I am so happy to be here and taking part in the fashion show.”

Payel, who joined Shustho Jibon 11 years ago, said, “We are working for our own well-being and human rights.” She said they also try to check HIV/ AIDS and other STDs within their community.

“I have gained confidence joining Shustho Jibon, and of course after taking part in this show tonight!”

None of Payel’s family came to cheer her on the catwalk but, on a personal note, she told bdnews24.com that her family did keep in touch with her.

Payel is lucky. Many Hijras are disowned by their own families. “Initially it was tough to convince my family about my activities and our community. But now they are fine with it,” she said.

“I am what I am from the day I came out from my mother’s womb. There was nothing to do about it, but to accept it,” said Payel.

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Bandhu event show to empower the MSM and Hizrah community

bsws

Submitted by Tanvir Alim

Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS) is organizing a cultural show scheduled for August 18th 2009 evening at National Museum, Shahbag, Dhaka. The main events of the day will be Dance performances from different groups and a Fashion show. This show is intended to empower the MSM and Hijra community population and raise funds. The prices of the tickets are Tk 500, Tk 200 and Tk 100 only. For information about the programme, contact Mr. Shahidul Alam, convener of the programme on email address:shahid@bandhu-bd.org

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Gay, straight or MSM?

In Bangladesh, how you define your sexuality can depend on class, education and family circumstances

There are many in Bangladesh who inhabit a grey area that is neither public nor private, where things that are illegal or socially and religiously taboo are permissible so long as they are not discussed openly. Drinking alcohol, falling in love and disbelieving in God are areas where people rarely disclose their thoughts or activities except in like-minded circles.

Living in such a way protects them from conservative elements of society and allows them to maintain cordial relationships with family and friends. Suleman, an imam at one of the largest mosques in Dhaka, lives with this kind of contradiction every day. None of his family or colleagues suspect anything about his relationship with his male partner, who is publicly acknowledged as “just a friend”. This is not so difficult to comprehend. A few years ago Suleman married a woman. Having fulfilled his social and religious obligations in both public and private matters (they have two children together), he is free to continue his relationship with his “friend”.

Suleman is well aware of the consequences if knowledge of his “friend” became public. He could be thrown out of the mosque or physically punished; there are many who think a man loving another man is among the worst sins a person can commit. Suleman himself believes it is very important that gay Muslims be allowed to marry, as a way to avoid promiscuity. Called upon by gay friends to bless their relationships, he performs readings from the Qur’an and prayers at such ceremonies.

In this regard Bangladesh is hardly any different from other conservative societies around the world, but new ideas are cautiously surfacing. The Bandhu (“friend”) organisation provides healthcare and support for men who have sex with men. It says that 7%-15% of Bangladeshi men over the age of 15 (that is between 2.5 million and 5.25 million people) have sex with another man at least once a month (most will do so while they are single and stop once they get married).

Saleh Ahmed, who runs Bandhu, stresses that the people it works with are not “gay” but fall within the looser category of “men who have sex with men” (MSMs). According to Ahmed, there are two main differences between the categories: MSMs have sex just for “fun” or “physical release”, without the emotional and identity implications of a gay relationship. The second difference between being gay and MSMs is that of class. MSMs generally have low-paid, menial jobs. Gay men come from a middle and upper class background; they tap into a wider, global gay identity and its trappings.

MSMs have very few choices in life, hemmed in as they are by poverty, social exclusion and threats from STIs including HIV/AIDS. This is exacerbated by marginalisation at the hands of their wealthier brethren, and has even spawned terms such as “LS” (low status) to refer to working class gay men and “HS” (high society) to indicate the more affluent.

Although Bangladesh’s anti-sodomy law (section 377 of criminal code) seems to have fallen into disuse, the police regularly stop, harass and even arrest working-class MSMs under other laws, according to Ahmed – so repealing Section 377 will not prevent any of this. For Ahmed, it is more important to focus on fighting for access to healthcare and educational services. Education at the grassroots levels is the key to this. Bandhu holds “sensitisation workshops” where the police, local elected bodies, journalists, doctors and lawyers are educated on the problems MSMs face. It also provides training on HIV/AIDS, and international and human rights laws.

“Our kind of work is far more crucial to the everyday lives of men who have sex with men than attempting to repeal this outdated law,” Ahmed says.

While most MSMs are poorly educated, the internet has become a crucial resource for the middle and upper classes. Boys of Bangladesh (BOB) is an online group with 1,700 members who explicitly define themselves as gay. The forum allows people to make friends, meet potential partners and disseminates information and advice.

Shakhawat Hossain, the group’s “moderator”, is typical of the young Dhakaias that BOB appeals to: in tune with international fashions and technology, privately educated, taking foreign holidays and preferring sushi to shutki (the traditional Bengali dried fish).

BOB’s aim is to develop a lifestyle first and then discuss rights and equality. Hossain says “MSM” refers just to sexual behaviour – which he finds insulting. To be gay on the other hand refers to sexual attraction, emotions, partnership and love, “far more complicated and less palatable for the orthodoxy”. He wants section 377 to be repealed, since from the offset it considers gay people to be criminals.

Whatever the result of BOB’s coming-out or Bandhu’s efforts to stay in the grey area, this will not stem the tide of educated, middle-class gay people leaving Bangladesh. One reason for this is for simple economics. Attracted to wealth, status and a particular kind of consumer-obsessed lifestyle, middle-class gay people are no different from their heterosexual counterparts.

The other reason is the perceived freedoms western countries offer homosexuals. At the turn of the 20th century gay men from the west, writers such as William Burroughs and Tennessee Williams for example moved, ironically by today’s standards, to Muslim countries where they found the atmosphere to be much more liberal towards homosexuality. Now, the movement is in the opposite direction.

The problem with this rainbow exodus is that the very group of people who are in a position to confront the issue of inequality in Bangladesh, to bring about change by using their influence, are the ones leaving.

I ask one gay man leaving for Australia whether he is willing to publicly declare his boyfriend in Bangladesh. His answer is frank. “I’d die if my parents and friends knew I was gay. Not because they’d kill me, but because of shame. I’m leaving so that I can do what I want without anyone here knowing about it.”

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Bangladeshi LGBT NGOs discusses over Section 377A BPC

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 12 18.43

Submitted by Tanvir Alim ( Moderator of BoB )

Edited by Ashok DEB

2nd July, 2009

Today James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of Brac University arranged a group discussion on Section 377 A BPC among prominent Bangladeshi LGBTI NGOs.The day itself is quite eventful as the Delhi High Court of neighbouring state India set a landmark judgement  by decriminalizing Homosexuality. This has raised some obvious hopes among the LGBTI defenders of our nation to seek out possible avenues for a repeal of a similar  Sodomy Law in Bangladesh. Todays meeting had specific proposals and agendas to build up  co-ordination and solidiarity between the groups representing diverse homosexual communities in the country.

But the purview of Section 377 A has a wider scope other than homosexuality. This Sodomy Law of Section 377 A proves to be the only deterrent in absence of any specific legalization against male rape, molestations or child abuse. Prominent Bangladeshi NGOs like Bandhu (BSWS) believes that repealing of Section 377 A will not end the violations against the sexual minorities. Infact the defunct Section 377 A is regularly utilised by the law enforcers and police to harass, torment and illegally detain the MSM and Hizrah community members.Thus educating the sexual minorities about their legal rights, creating awareness among the law enforcing authorities and the judiciary could mitigate the present ongoing persecution against these exposed communities.

At the seminar it was universally decided upon that definate legal action planfor a repeal of 377A should be taken in such a way that does not adversely impact or destroy any homosexual communities. Thus maintaining the coalition of LGBTI welfare NGOS is of utmost importance and priority. It was also marked that creating  media awareness about the existence of the Homosexual communities is more important at this stage compared to the challenging of  Section 377 A. Generally Bangladeshi sexual minorities remain highly closetted to avoid societal discmination or ridiculing. This invisibility has proved to be a major obstacle towards launching any viable rights movement for the sexual minorities. The very lack of visibility is comfortably certified by the Bangladeshi Government as ” Sexual Identity is not at all an issue in our country” (UNHCR June 2009).

Unlike India where the similar Sodomy Law was widely utilised by the Government to harass and convict AIDS prevention activists, the Section 377 A BPC is virtually defunct in Bangladesh. Infact Bangladesh has a very progressive AIDS and STD prevention policy and its advisory board even includes prominent social workers like Saleh Ahmed (Bandhu).  Section 377 A BPC has never been utilised to hamper any activities directed towards prevention of communicable diseases among the Homosexuals. Infact in 40 years of history of the nation there exists only a single case of conviction under 377 A exists (refer Ain O Salish Kendra report 2009).So at this moment sensitization against the defunct 377 A might backfire and we may wake up a sleeping giant.

One of the major recommendations from the discussion was to make combined efforts for media sensitization at local level as well as in the decision-making level. In the summary it was proposed that NGOs should more actively engage in conducting workshops on gender training , where sexuality should be included.This could prove to be an active measure to promote an awareness that Homosexuality is not perverse or unhealthy, but a natural human tendency as endorsed by the modern medical findings.

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