Category Archives: Bangladesh- Policies and declarations

Human rights: Bangladesh’s LGBT Community and the UPR 2013

Bangladesh will be subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on April 29. The UPR is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that will examine Bangladesh’s overall human rights performance during the last four and a half years. It will be the second UPR cycle, following the first one in 2009.

The UPR aims at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the 193 United Nations (UN) member states. Each UN member state is subjected to this review every four and a half years. The reason UPR is important for Bangladesh, or any state for that matter, is the opportunity for stakeholders to submit their own reports along with the one from the government. The mechanism has hence proved to be very popular and powerful in upholding the human rights of marginalized or disenfranchised groups.
The sexual and gender minority community of Bangladesh has also discovered this new mechanism as a way to raise awareness for the violations of their human rights on an international platform. In 2009, based on reports prepared by local rights groups, Chile and the Czech Republic made three recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh that, if implemented, would improve the legal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Bangladesh.
Two of the recommendations were to decriminalise same-sex relationships by abolishing Section 377 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, which is a remainder of British colonialism. Another recommendation was to educate law enforcers and judicial officers about LGBT issues, and to adopt further measures to ensure the protection of LGBT persons against violence and abuse.
The Government of Bangladesh rejected the first two recommendations, saying that “Bangladesh is a society with strong traditional and cultural values. Same-sex activity is not an acceptable norm to any community in the country. Indeed, sexual orientation is not an issue in Bangladesh. There has been no concern expressed by any quarter in the country on this.” The government, however, accepted the recommendation of training law enforcers to protect sexual and gender minorities.
When Bangladesh comes under review for the second cycle in a few days, more specific recommendations from UN member states are expected to ease the plight of LGBT people. But, given the current political situation of the country, the issue may be dumped way beneath the pile of other issues. That is why it is important that the media, civil society and the community endorse the cause of sexual and gender minorities.
Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), the largest platform of self-identified gay men in Bangladesh, has put forward a number of recommendations from the LGBT community in the stakeholders’ report this year. One of the main recommendations is to conduct a government survey about human rights violations victimising LGBT persons in the country. Such a survey is necessary to learn more about the discrimination, stigma and violence LGBT persons face in Bangladesh, and to develop strategies to address these human rights violations.
The government already has an extensive HIV/AIDS program under the Ministry of Health, which also includes men who have sex with men (MSM) and Hijras. Hence, the government’s claim that sexual orientation is not an issue in the country is only a way to brush aside the realities, and to avoid acknowledging human rights violations of sexual and gender minorities.
BoB thinks that it is time for the government to acknowledge the existence of this clandestine but significant population, and to take appropriate measures to address the violations of their human rights. After all, sexual and gender minorities are part of every family, every society and are integral development partners of the country.

The writer is a human rights activist and a volunteer at Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), a non-registered, non-funded, informal network of self-identified gay men in Bangladesh.

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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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Filed under Bandhu BSWS, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Media-Indian Subcontinent

LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377

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Sam is a university-educated Muslim-born Hindu of 25 years. He is living in Dhaka and works as a university teacher. Six years ago, after graduating from college at the age of 19, he discovered that his sexual orientation deviates from the cultural norm in Bangladesh. Today he is in a romantic relationship with a man. He also has had sexual encounters with women before and describes himself as a bisexual man. Sam and his boyfriend go on trips together, hold hands on the streets of Dhaka and share a bed when staying at each other‟s places. Since male-male friendships are traditionally very intimate in Bangladesh, these practices cast no doubt upon their presumed heterosexual identities. Family and friends consider Sam and his boyfriend to be close friends. “As long as you don‟t come out open to your family, you are safe,” Sam explains. Sam is not his real name. Afraid of the possible social and legal consequences, he agreed to speak only under the condition of anonymity.

Like Sam and his boyfriend, many homosexuals in Bangladesh hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families. “It is easy to live a moderate life with a hidden identity if one is homosexual.” In predominantly Muslim countries, homosexuality is often looked upon as a sin. Accordingly, the consequences of coming out can be severe. Some gay men who inform their families about their sexual orientation are forced into a heterosexual marriage. Other parents consider homosexuality a mental illness and object their gay sons to religious brainwashing or psychiatric treatment. Sam heard of cases in Bangladesh where electric shocks were applied to homosexual men in an effort to “cure” them from their supposed psychiatric condition. He is convinced that, “unless the government, parents and friends understand that a man or woman can be a gay or a lesbian and yet be a very good and devout Muslim, Hindu or Christian, the chances for LGBT (“lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender‟) rights in Bangladesh are low.” Society in Bangladesh is far from that. Homosexuality among men is seen as a morally deprived Western phenomenon that needs to be fended off. “While the existence of gay sex is at least acknowledged by most people though, lesbian sex does not even exist in the dreams of people in Bangladesh.”

The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh. Interestingly, prosecutions under Section 377 are extremely rare. Section 377, hence, does not impair Bangladesh‟s moderate image in the world and questions about the country‟s human rights record on the issue of homosexuality are avoided in the international arena. Not only in court, but also in mainstream media the issue has largely been ignored. The LGBT community is forced into a shadow existence and its voice is effectively silenced in the public sphere. However, mainly due to new media, times are changing.

Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe-Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad. Angela Grünert, director of the Goethe-Institut, explains her involvement in the LGBT movement in Bangladesh with the belief that “everyone should have equal rights in the society”, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation. BoB organized various other events, mainly in Dhaka, and its representatives attended international conferences on LGBT issues in Nepal and Thailand. The organization further provides homosexuals in Bangladesh with information on health and legal issues on its website at http://boysofbangladesh.org/.

Change on the subcontinent is also happening on the legal front. An Indian court in the country‟s capital, Delhi, decriminalized homosexual intercourse by repealing Section 377 of the Indian Criminal Code in July 2009, saying that treating certain forms of consensual sex between adults as a crime is a violation of fundamental human rights. For Sam, this is a sign of hope. He is convinced that, due to the profound cultural links between India and Bangladesh, the Indian court‟s ruling will spark a public debate on LGBT issues in Bangladesh and encourage the homosexual youth here to fight for their rights. “It is the youth, exposed to international media and increasingly educated, that is empowering the LGBT movement in Bangladesh.”

Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Progressive Muslim scholars around the world argue that Qur’anic verses on homosexuality are obsolete in the context of modern society and point out that, while the Qur‟an speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love. However, in Bangladesh, religion remains the single most persistent obstacle for LGBT rights.

The LGBT rights movement in Bangladesh is growing rapidly and the voices for the repeal of Section 377 are becoming louder. The issue is bound to emerge into a public battle over the young nation’s religious and cultural identity, human rights and modernity and will pose a challenge to policymakers, religious authorities and leaders of civil society alike.

Rainer Ebert is a moral philosopher at Rice University in the United States of America. He is specializing in animal ethics and issues of global justice.

Mahmudul Hoque Moni is the founding director of the Centre for Practical Multimedia Studies at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka. He is interested in human rights issues, social justice, sports media and visual communication.

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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh persecution of Homosexuals, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Media-Indian Subcontinent

Bangladesh MSM snapshot released at ICAAP Bali

MSM Country Snapshots for 15 countries was developed as a collaborative product of UNAIDS Regional Support Team, the AIDS Datahub and APCOM.The countries are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Each snapshots portrays the latest  behavioural response data available from the Datahub, with information from the Commission on AIDS , and also included in some key sessions relating to MSM at ICAAP. A one-page Regional Picutre snapshot is also attached to each MSM Country Snapshot.

The Snapshots are designed to inform viewers (particularly those who may have little or no knowledge of MSM) about the reality of MSM in-country, to ensure that they have some related facts and figures, and to help spurn interest in attending specific MSM-related sessions.

The latest epidemiological data, released at the forum held by the Asia Pacific in Bali, shows that epidemics in the region are accelerating at an alarming rate.The risk behaviours among MSM and TG in Asia Pacific combined with the unique social, cultural and economic pressures that influence them create cross-cutting issues that must be taken into account by those seeking to support, educate and advocate for these often neglected communities.

“The vast majority of MSM is Southeast Asia are married or will be married, whether they want to be or not,” said Shale Ahmed of the Bandhu Social Welfare Society, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In addition, a large number of MSM in the region who are sex workers face a double stigma, exacerbated by low access to condoms, drug and alcohol abuse, low levels of education, a high level of mobility and dealing with harassment and violence.

The regional Picture Snapshot


http://msmasia.org/tl_files/news/ICAAP_News/Bangladesh_MSM_Country_Snapshot%20_Aug_2009.pdf

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CSBR Bangladesh: A first for the Queer members of Bengali society

Crossposted from CSBR e-news

http://www.wwhr.org/files/CSBR_Enews_Winter_2009.pdf

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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh LGBT events, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Boys of Bangladesh, Islam and Homosexuality, Media-Indian Subcontinent, Media-International

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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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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Filed under Ashok DEB, Bandhu BSWS, Bangladesh LGBT events, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Boys of Bangladesh, Tanvir Alim