By Sophearith Dareth
According to UN Women, this year’s theme for the International Women’s Day, one of Cambodia’s national holidays, is “Time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”.
The desire and determination for change has pushed people all around the world to come together to express themselves and demand an end to sexual assault, violence, and discrimination against women everywhere.
The organization further stated that the 2018 International Women’s Day is the opportunity to galvanize and take into account some of the momentum like “Me too” movement, and celebrate activists who are relentlessly fighting for change.
On this occasion, I want to add that transgender women, too, experience verbal and physical sexual harassment, discrimination, violence, and even murder.
Trans women remain neglected, not accepted, and very often are not included in celebrations around such global days. That’s why I would like to take this opportunity to raise awareness and hopefully motivate more people to recognize this community and celebrate them exactly like other women.
To further illustrate the issue here are some data that I found after going through some research and survey:
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) conducted a qualitative research in a form of comprehensive survey reported in a journal. There is a total respondent of 135 trans women. Shockingly, 91% of them have received verbal harassment from people, around 43% of them have been physically assaulted, and 31% of them have been sexually harassed solely because of their transgender identity.
While CCHR was conducting research and survey in Siem Reap, a number of people reported to have been harassed by the police and forced to bathe in filthy stagnant river, sometimes even naked. They can also be forced to remove their make up as well. The police target those who are involved in sex work or mistakenly perceived as doing so.
A true story about a transgender woman named “Srey Lim”, who was harassed by the police after she just came back from attending a ceremony at midnight and was forced to go into the river or have to pay a fine of thirty dollars for just being somewhere.
This horrible practice is an act of harassment and discrimination against transgender women. To force them to strip away their gender expression is undeniably an immoral act.
After coming out, 70% of the respondents were not supported by their families, while 53% said it has worsened the relationship between them. 57% have been refused employment because of the gender identity and 41% have contemplated suicide.
These high numbers not only depict the struggles trans women in Cambodia have to go through on a daily basis, but it also shows that there is so much more to be done.
To some extent, I believe that these discriminatory and harassment acts are due to the fact that there is no legal protection for the transgender community. Lack of representation and basic understanding also play significant roles in this matter as well.
Their visibility is needed now more than ever. Change needs to happen. Laws need to be made and enforced. More voices, activists, and advocates are in need.
What should you do then?
The same report from CCHR states that around 86% of transgender women are happy with their lives while the other 14% are not. Despite day to day struggle, trans women in Cambodia are living the lives they have always wanted: to be themselves.
So what can we do? If you do not desire to be an activist or an advocate, there is a number of easy things you can do. First, you can just recognize or at least try to get to know more about the community. Next, do not harass. You should also ask yourself this: “If you do not have anything nice to say, why not keep it to yourself and stay silent?”
Moreover, you should look at the issue this way. At the end of the day, everyone wishes to be happy. Their gender identity is only a fraction of who they are and it does not negatively affect anyone. What is inside matters most.
Finally, I hope this blog can be a small fragment that can spark more conversations, raise more awareness, and motivate to change for the better for transgender communities. As Oprah Winfrey said in her inspirational Golden Globe speech “a new day is on the horizon!”.
Let us gather and pave our path towards a day when there is justice and no discrimination or harassment.