Copy of my #TheSafeSpace Column published in the Times Of Swaziland on the 20th of April 2016:
Previously on Inclusive Society: I teamed up with Swazi LGBTI NGO Rock of Hope to commemorate International Transgender Day of Visibility (31 March, annually). Through Lindokuhle, an advocate for the organisation, we looked at the relevant terminology (sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation) and discussed the day to day challenges in the transgender community. In our second episode, the discussion revolved around; dissemination of information, legal transitions, police and restrooms. Our journey to knowledge continues:
Support and acceptance from family is often the hardest thing to achieve. Families can be notoriously ignorant, oppressive and consumed by denial. In some instances one will be treated like a broken machine that needs to be prayed for, punished or simply left alone because he or she is going through a phase. In more extreme, but common instances, a child will be kicked out of the house and be subjected to a life of living with friends, or seeking any form of shelter available.
For transgender people, tertiary education is more bearable due to fact that fellow students tend to be open minded and others simply mind their own business. High school on the other hand can be a nightmare. Can you imagine wearing a school uniform and being expected to behave in a certain way that is alien to you; 5 days a week, year after year? Unfortunately instances of punishment, suspension and expulsion are common for pupils that defy the rules.
In Swaziland (like neighbouring South Africa), the slang term for neighbourhood is kasi. Although kasis are normally associated with social ills, they have often provided a safe haven for marginalised groups. As Lindokuhle explains, the guys that he grew up with in his kasi are a support squad. They understand him and treat him with the non-judgmental approach that society could learn a thing or two about.
With the exception of finding employment with advocacy focused organisations like The Rock of Hope, securing a job for transgender people is difficult. Employers seem to be more concerned about a persons appearance rather than their skills and qualifications. This is extremely unfortunate and it leads to perfectly qualified candidates being overlooked simply based on gender identity. In Lindokhules words, you cant expect someone who identifies as a woman to wear mens shoes and a suit simply because her ID reads as male. What about her weave?!
7. Health Services
For any population, access to health services is literally be the difference between life and death. It was good to hear that the health sector in Swaziland is increasingly accommodating towards the needs of transgender individuals and the wider LGBTI community. Through trainings and other capacity building initiatives, health workers have adopted new skills and attitudes towards service delivery. As this work continues, we need to take time and congratulate the Ministry of Health, FLAS, NERCHA and the American Embassy amongst others for all the efforts. It is definitely a big step in the right direction!
For today, we will end of here. Next week, we wrap up this mini-series with the final episode. Keep the thirst for knowledge flowing and dont miss out.
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