From Inequality to Inclusion: Recognizing the Vulnerabilities of Sexual Minorities in the Response to the Delhi Gang-Rape

The Justice J.S. Verma Commission stresses that the word ‘sex’ in the Constitution of India should be understood to include sexual orientation. (Photo © 2012 Peter Caton for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

The Justice J.S. Verma Commission stresses that the word ‘sex’ in the Constitution of India should be understood to include sexual orientation. (Photo © 2012 Peter Caton for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

Convened in the aftermath of the horrific gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi this past December, a special commission headed by former Chief Justice J.S. Verma was tasked to suggest amendments to criminal laws to improve the security of women in India and ensure speedier justice.

In its 657-page report released in January 2013, the Commission has provided an initial set of recommendations, but it has also gone a step beyond its mandate. Unexpectedly and to its great credit, the report has made special mention of India’s sexual minorities, who are too often also victims of social stigma, discrimination and violence.

Even in the first chapter of the report, the Commission stresses the need to acknowledge differences in sexual orientation as ‘a human reality’ and recognizes the range of sexual and gender identities.  It also makes clear that the use of the word ‘sex’ in the Constitution of India should be understood to include sexual orientation. The full passage is a remarkable testament to social progress in India:

We must also recognize that our society has the need to recognize different sexual orientations a human reality. In addition to homosexuality, bisexuality, and lesbianism, there also exists the transgender community. In view of the lack of scientific understanding of the different variations of orientation, even advanced societies have had to first declassify ‘homosexuality’ from being a mental disorder and now it is understood as a triangular development occasioned by evolution, partial conditioning and neurological underpinnings owing to genetic reasons. Further, we are clear that Article 15(c) of the constitution of India uses the word “sex” as including sexual orientation.”

The report also powerfully justifies the inclusion of sexual minorities as indisputably entitled to their human and legal rights and fully embraced as equal citizens:

“Thus, if human rights of freedom mean anything, India cannot deny the citizens the right to be different. The state must not use oppressive and repressive labeling of despised sexuality. Thus the right to sexual orientation is a human right guaranteed by the fundamental principles of equality. We must also add that transgender communities are also entitled to affirmation of gender autonomy. Our cultural prejudices must yield to constitutional principles of equality, empathy and respect.”

The report proposes qualitative indicators measuring the perception of safety and security for women and other vulnerable groups as a tool to improve police performance and accountability. It also makes case for ‘community policing,’ a strategy to involve local populations and increase confidence in the safety of the citizenry. The report places emphasis of building capacities of the police on both gender-based violence and discrimination.

These suggestions and the arguments used to justify them are not only indicative of dynamic social change in India but also offer an unprecedented opportunity for civil society—including those of us working to improve the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities—to build and sustain collaboration with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.

Through this engagement, we can begin to address some of the structural forces that increase vulnerability to HIV and hamper efforts to create an enabling environment for women, sexual minorities and other groups who continue to live in constant fear for their safety and security.

Read our January 3rd blog, The Other Epidemic: Gender-based Violence in India.

Read the complete report here.

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The author of this post, Yadavendra Singh, is Senior Programme Officer: Capacity Building for Alliance India’s Pehchan Programme.

With support from the Global FundPehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, SAATHII, Sangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

Alliance India Events at AIDS 2012 on Sunday, July 22

India HIV/AIDS Alliance invites you today (Sunday, July 22, Global Village Session Room 1, 3:45-5:45pm) for the satellite session on Reaching Key Populations through SRH/HIV Integration: Opportunities for Impact

This session is organised by India HIV/AIDS Alliance with support from European Commission and chaired by UNAIDS, it will present programming experiences highlighting the challenges and successful approaches used in integrated programmes specific to key populations such as MSM and Transgender people, Sex Workers, PLHIV and People Who Use Drugs. Panelists include the Alliance’s Sunita Grote, USAID’s Clancy Broxton, CAMNAFAW’s Nathalie Nkoume, and NEPHAK’s Rahab Mwaniki.

Take a sneak peak on our latest publications that are being showcased today at AIDS 2012 on HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations. Please click on the specific title to view or download the publication. Stay tuned for more updates!


New Publication (Policy Brief)
Key Linkages and Key Populations : Is HIV/SRHR Integration Serving the Needs of Vulnerable Communities?


New Publication (Desk Review)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations : A review of experiences and lessons learned in India and globally


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Sex Workers


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Men who have Sex with Men and Transgender People


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for People Living with HIV


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for People Who Use Drugs

We’ll update our blog everyday with details on activities that we are participating in, and will also upload documents so that you can view them online or download them. If you have any questions, please contact us at info@allianceindia.org. You can also view our AIDS 2012 Roadmap for all India HIV/AIDS Alliance sessions at the International AIDS Conference. We look forward in connecting with you at AIDS 2012!

FROM STIGMA TO STRENGTH – Strategies for MSM, Transgender People and Allies in a Shifting AIDS Landscape

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is organizing today (21st July, 2012) the fifth MSM Pre-Conference event to the International AIDS Conference, to be held in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is: From Stigma to Strength: Strategies for MSM, Transgender People and Allies in a Shifting AIDS Landscape. Since its inception in 2006, the MSM Pre-Conference has grown to become the largest global gathering of activists, researchers, implementers and donors focused on the health and human rights of men who have sex with men.

The MSM Pre-Conference will provide a platform for up to 500 participants to exchange the most recent research, best practices, and advocacy strategies that advance the overall goal of universal access. The event will also include networking opportunities and skills building sessions focused on the changing research, programmatic, and policy landscapes in the AIDS sector.

Alliance India is speaking at various sessions and ensuring that the voices of millions are heard. For a more complete overview of sessions visit here.

James Robertson, Country Director, India HIV/AIDS Alliance is moderating a session today morning on Keeping the Pressure Up: A Dialogue with Donors on Increasing HIV Investments Targeted at Programs for MSM and Transgender People

This session on global financing is designed as a dialogue between donors and advocates on donor accountability and the lack of meaningful tracking of resources intended for MSM and transgender HIV programs. The panel will feature experts representing bilateral, multilateral, and private philanthropic agencies. Strategies for what advocates can do at the regional, national, and global levels to directly and meaningfully engage with donors will be discussed.

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Simran Shaikh, Programme Officer, Pehchan, India HIV/AIDS Alliance is a speaker for the session on Mounting an Advocacy Response Against Human Rights Violations and Abuses Faced by Transgender Communities Worldwide

This session will feature a panel of trans activists who will discuss various ways in which human rights abuses exacerbate HIV risk and negative health outcomes among transgender communities worldwide. Case study examples highlighting strategies for documenting and challenging these violations at the local, national, regional, and global levels will be discussed. The panelists will shed light on recent successes related to the removing of legal barriers among transgender people in Argentina, Australia, the United States, India, and Sweden.

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Jonathan Ripley, former Manager for Advocacy and Policy, Pehchan, India HIV/AIDS Alliance will moderate the session on Speaking Out Loud: Effective Strategies for Managing the Challenges Associated With MSM-Led Advocacy in Central America, North Africa, and Southeast Asia

This session will feature activists from North Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia sharing their real-life experiences implementing advocacy strategies utilizing a community-led advocacy toolkit for the health and human rights of MSM. Major objectives include sharing the key steps involved with developing and implementing locally specific adaptations of Speaking Out; discussion of the major challenges, successes, and lessons learned from the Speaking Out process; and implications for future regional advocacy activities and initiatives. This session goal is to explore the commonalities, differences, and synergies that occurred while building advocacy capacity for MSM across the 3 regions. Participants will gain an enhanced understanding of the different experiences, knowledge, and approaches used to implement advocacy trainings for HIV and MSM activists in diverse regions. It is expected that this discussion will encourage South-South exchange, maximizing tools and resources to develop and implement local and international advocacy strategies.

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Alvaro Bermejo, Executive Director, International HIV/AIDS Alliance will speak on Challenges and Opportunities for Global Fund–Led HIV Programs Among MSM and Transgender People in Low – and Middle-Income Countries

This session is exclusively focused on Global Fund HIV programs among MSM and transgender people. This will give advocates the opportunity to learn more about recent changes within the Fund and the implications of these changes for key populations. Panelists for the session each represent the various core structures of the Fund (Board, Secretariat, Country Coordinating Mechanism, and Grant Recipient) and therefore will bring unique perspectives to the dialogue.

If you have any questions, please contact us at info@allianceindia.org. You can also view our AIDS 2012 Roadmap for all India HIV/AIDS Alliance sessions at the International AIDS Conference. We hope to see you at AIDS 2012!

Mark your calendars for AIDS 2012 sessions on MSM and Transgenders

India HIV/AIDS Alliance has been working closely with partners worldwide to make sure that MSM and transgender people are heard at the upcoming International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. If you are attending, we encourage you to participate in the events below.

For a more complete overview of MSM and transgender programming at AIDS 2012, please see the AIDS 2012 Roadmap for MSM & Transgender People put together by our friends at the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) as part of the their pre-conference program.

All events take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC, unless otherwise indicated.

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MSM Networking Zone
Visit the MSM Networking Zone at the Global Village. Organised by MSMGF and regional partners, the zone’s primary objective is to offer a safe and creative space for gay/MSM advocates to network, share experiences, exchange ideas, and coordinate advocacy strategies toward stronger, more inclusive HIV responses across our respective regions.
All week, Global Village, Booth 811, 8:30am-8:30pm

Alliance Exhibition Booth (#102)
Come visit booth #102 to learn about the Alliance’s work in India and around the world, pick up copies of our publications and find out more about the Alliance Regional Technical Support Hubs.
All week, Exhibition Hall, 10:00am-6:30pm 

Affiliated Independent Event
MSM Pre-Conference
Organised by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), this meeting is the largest global gathering of activists, researchers, implementers and donors focused on the health and human rights of MSM and transgender people. India HIV/AIDS Alliance’s James Robertson and Simran Shaikh are participating on panels, along with Alliance India alumnus Jonathan Ripley and International HIV/AIDS Alliance executive director Alvaro Bermejo.
Saturday, July 21, FHI360, Washington, DC, 9:00am-6:00pm (Event sold out!)

Satellite Session
Reaching Key Populations through SRH/HIV Integration: Opportunities for Impact
Organised by India HIV/AIDS Alliance and chaired by UNAIDS, this session will present programming experiences highlighting the challenges and successful approaches used in integrated programmes specific to key populations, including MSM and transgender people. Panelists include the Alliance’s Sunita Grote, USAID’s Clancy Broxton, CAMNAFAW’s Nathalie Nkoume, and NEPHAK’s Rahab Mwaniki.
Sunday, July 22, Global Village Session Room 1, 3:45-5:45pm

Poster Presentation
Reaching the hard-to-reach: Community engagement and facilitation as a research strategy with MSM, transgender and hijra populations in the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program in India (MOPE403)
Monday, July 23, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Poster Presentation
Are low levels of education among MSM, transgenders and hijras a barrier to building strong CBOs to serve as HIV prevention partners? An analysis of data from the baseline survey of the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program in India (MOPE455)
Monday, July 23, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Poster Presentation
Community engagement in the development and roll-out of a capacity building model to strengthen CBOs for MSM, transgenders and hijras under the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program in India (MOPE464)
Monday, July 23, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Poster Presentation
Sexual behaviour of MSM, transgenders and hijras with female partners: An analysis of data from the baseline survey of the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program in India (TUPE536)
Tuesday, July 24, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Oral Poster Session
Expanding Covering and Quality: Approaches to Scaling-Up
Alliance’s Sunita Grote will present recommendations on reaching Key Populations in SRH/HIV integration, including guidance on services for sex workers, MSM, transgenders, IDUs and PLHIV. (WEPDE0102)
Wednesday, July 25, Mini Room 3, 1:00-2:00pm

Poster Presentation
Reaching MSM and transgenders in SRHR/HIV Integration: Recommendations from a global intervention review to identify strategies to increase the responsiveness and relevance of integrated programming to the sexual and reproductive health and rights needs of high-risk groups (THPE268)
Thursday, July 26, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Poster Presentation
Combination Collaboration: Leveraging government commitment, donor processes and community mobilization to develop a national program to build the capacity of MSM and transgender populations as HIV prevention partners: Making the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program in India (THPE689)
Thursday, July 26, Exhibition Hall, Level 2, 12:30-2:30pm

Oral Abstract Session
MSM: The Impact of Internal and External Stigma on a Personal and Social Level
This panel will include a presentation by India HIV/AIDS Alliance staff member Simran Shaikh of findings from the Global Fund-supported Pehchan program for MSM, transgender and hijra communities in India. (THAD0505)
Thursday, July 26, Session Room 8, 2:30-4:00pm

Press Conference
Turning the Tide: Addressing SRH Needs of Key Populations in AIDS Programs
This session will include remarks by Daxa Patel, the Board Secretary, Gujarat State Network of PLHIV, and by Sunita Grote from the Alliance.
Thursday, July 26, Media Center, Press Conference Room 2, 3:30-4:00pm

If you have any questions, please contact us at info@allianceindia.org. You can also view our AIDS 2012 Roadmap for all India HIV/AIDS Alliance sessions at the International AIDS Conference. We hope to see you at AIDS 2012!