Rights of Young Women, Young Women and Girls Living with HIV, and Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender Persons Should Be Respected

Group discussion among YW/GLHIV of partner engagement. Date: April 11, 2015Photo: Open Institute

OI : The common advocacy message of Young Women and Girl Living with HIV (YW/GLHIV) and Lesbian Bisexuals and Transgender (LBT) groups in Battambang province is to stop all forms of discrimination against YW/GLHIV and LBTs. Another message is that YW/GLHIV and LBTs have the same human rights as other people. 

Why do we want to strengthen the capacity of young women leaders, especially young women and girls living with HIV and Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons in Cambodia? This is what Mr. UY Sareth, program manager of Open Institute, asked participants who were young women, YW/GLHIV and LBT in the partnership engagement meeting in Battambang on 11 April 2015. This meeting is one among other activities of the project 

“Strengthening Capacity of Young Women Leadership Network,” funded by UN Women.

Group discussion was conducted among the participants at the partnership engagement meeting to identify challenges, needs and key messages to be voiced. The common concerns of the participants were: there is discrimination against YW/GLHIV and LBT by friends at school, neighbors, local authorities, and in the work place.Young women and YW/GLHIV have a low level of education and lack financial support for pursuing their studies.

One young women living with HIV at Kdol Daun Tiev commune, Battambang province shared: “I am HIV affected. After my parents died because of HIV/AIDS, I became an orphan, I don’t have money to go to school. I am looking for support on materials such as books, pens, a bag and some small amount of money to pursue my studies.” They lack money to go to the hospital to get ARV. There is no job creation for the LGBT and YW/GLHIV. Family members break up relationships of LBT, and force them to marry the opposite sex, and Young LBT are unable to obtain ID cards issued by local authorities. One young LBT at Battambang province said: “I tried to get an ID card, but when I arrived at the commune office, the local authority said that it was difficult to identify my sex based on my personal appearance. They always asked me are you male or female, and said I am different from others, therefore they would not complete the form and don’t provide the ID card to me.” 

To deal with the above mentioned challenges and concerns, YW/GLHIV and young LBT who attended the meeting suggested the following interventions:

    •Need capacity building on HIV and LBT awareness to communities to reduce discrimination against YW/GLHIV and LBT.

    •LBT request that the government stop discriminating against them and provide them with ID cards (as local authorities currently will not provide them ID cards).

    •Need educational materials for young girls living with HIV so that they can continue to go to school (they lack text books and other education materials). 

    •Government should create jobs for YW/GLHIV in communities or at the nearest villages.

    •Request to have vocational training to YW/GLHIV and LBTs to have access to income generated and provide micro finance for them to start their own businesses after the training.

    • Authorities should allow the young women, especially YW/GLHIV and LBT, to join commune council’s monthly or quarterly meetings to voice their concern and needs.

    •Provide health care support and ARV regularly and free to the YW/GLHIV and LBTs (who are HIV affected).

The common advocacy message of the participants is to stop all forms of discrimination against YW/GLHIV and LBTs. Another message was that YW/GLHIV and LBTs have the same human rights as other people. 

Mr. Sareth said that there are some small, isolated initiatives by young women to influence decision-making processes

Challenges of YW/GLHIV in group discussion of partner engagement. Date: April 11, 2015Photo: Open Institute

, but their voice in policy debate and decision-making 

remains limited. In order to help the voice of young women including young women and girls living with HIV (YW/GLHIV) and LBTs, Open Institute has designed the project “Strengthening Capacity of Young Women’s Leadership Network” which will model out an approach that will bring together members of the Young Women’s Leadership Network with the above mentioned marginalized groups of young women and girls to coalesce around a common set of messages and agenda, and to build their capacity for joint strategic advocacy on policy issues to address their collective concerns. 

This project is implemented by the Open Institute in collaboration with partners in Phnom Penh and Battambang, and aims to increase the participation of young women, including YW/GLHIV and LBT persons, in political dialogue, and to raise awareness of the rights of YW/GLHIV and LBT people and the need for accountability to gender equality commitments in the country. Project beneficiaries will be able to share knowledge gained from the training to their peers to make the voice of YW to be heard at the national and sub-national level and participants are able to use ICT for sharing information and for advocacy.

He also mentioned that this project is funded by UN Women and its duration is eleven months, starting from 18 December 2014 to 15 November 2015. He continued that the project implementation involves collaboration of partners in Phnom Penh and Battambang province such as Young Women Leadership Network (YWLN), Cambodian People Living with HIV Network (CPN)+, Cambodian Community of Women (CCW), CamASEAN, CHEMS, and Khmer Youth for Social Development (KYSD). Four other potential partners are Jass SEA, Cambodia Young Women Empowerment Network (CYWEN), and People Health for Development Association (PHD). The project also works with Commune Sangkat Council Association and with National AIDS Authority (NAA). 

At present, there are some organizations working with YW/GLHIV such as CPN+ and CCW, and CamASEAN and ROCK are working with LGBT. But it seems there is no government institution works specifically on LBT rights. Programs working on changing attitudes and perceptions towards these groups are limited, and support to advocacy efforts of these groups is needed such as raising awareness of rights of YW/GLHIV and LBT. YW/GLHIV and young LBT are rarely the focus in gender mainstreaming of organizations.

At the end of the meeting, participants expressed that this project is very good and will bring together many kinds of vulnerable women to build a stronger network. They will participate in the training/meetings based on the work plan of the project and will invite more W/GLHIV and LBTs to join. They committed to sharing and discussing what they have learned in the meetings to their friends at a commune level.

Young women (from 10 to 24 years old) comprise 36 percent of the total female population. The Government of Cambodia considers that youths should play an active role in the development of the country; however, their education and capacity do not meet social demands. The voice of youth is rarely incorporated into planning processes and young people are rarely called upon to participate in village meetings; they can therefore often feel ignored. 

The percentage of women among all adults living with HIV is significantly higher than the regional average of 32%-35% (UNAIDS, 2012). Nevertheless, the country has seen a drop in infection rate from 2% of the population in 2008 to an estimated 0.7% today.  HIV prevalence is particularly high in urban centers. 2008 KHANA studies indicate the challenges of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA): stigma and discrimination remained a central concern for them; some of them do not disclose their condition because of fear; and they have less support emotionally and financially. 

The Cambodian Constitution states the right of all Cambodians to be treated equally. While Cambodian National laws and policies do not identify same-sex activities as a criminal offence, the rights of LGBT’s are not stipulated in any laws or policies.  There is no law sanctioning anti-discrimination or punishment for those who violate the rights of LBT people. Various statements have been made by high-level political leaders expressing support for LGBT rights. For example, a public pronouncement was made by Cambodia’s former King, His Majesty King Father Norodom Sihanouk, in support of same-sex relations in 2004.

The Open Institute is a non-governmental, not for-profit organization founded in Cambodia in September 2006 by a group of people committed to the belief that access to  information and improvement of communication among different stakeholders are essential for the effective development of a more just and democratic Cambodia. To work towards its vision, the Open Institute continuously analyzes how technology can be used to improve access to information and lead to better education and health, promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, and enhance business development. The organization also aims to facilitate participation in political and social movements, helping Cambodians freely express their opinions.