Fighting for inclusion, recognition and respect for transgender people in Mozambique
Pepetsa Fumo shares her story of working in partnership with UNDP to improve sexual and reproductive health and inclusion for transgender women and other young key populations
Gender identity refers to a person’s experience of their own gender. Transgender people have a gender identity that is different from the sex that they were assigned at birth. A transgender or trans person may identify as a man, woman, transman, transwoman, as a non-binary person, and with other terms such as hijra, third gender, two-spirit, travesti, fa’afafine, genderqueer, transpinoy, muxe, waria and meti. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Trans people may have any sexual orientation, including heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and asexual. Source: UN Free & Equal
Transgender persons across Africa, as in many parts of the world, are among the most marginalized in society. Their needs are often excluded in public policies and strategies, and they face legal and policy barriers to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, as well as other social services.
With support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Linking Policy to Programming project (LPP) — which aims to strengthen HIV and sexual and reproductive health-related rights of young key populations in Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe — transgender community leaders are spearheading advocacy for inclusion and equity in law and policy development processes.
Pepetsa Fumo is one such leader. Living in the city of Maputo, the Mozambican capital, and trained by the Ministry of Health (MISAU) in sexual and reproductive health, she started working as an activist with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in 2012.
Advocating for better policies and laws
In January 2020, after extensive participation in several trainings, regional conferences and seminars organized by the Linking Policy to Programming project, Pepetsa established an organization called TRANSformar.moz which aims to promote an inclusive Mozambican society guaranteeing full rights and citizenship for transgender people against any form of discrimination, in addition to prioritizing the strengthening of public policy for this community.
Pepetsa is a good example of how members of young key populations groups are using the experiences and knowledge acquired with support from UNDP to create civil society organizations and groups in defense of their rights, and to seek for greater social inclusion.
“As a result of the project, I had the opportunity to represent the Mozambican LGBTQ community in various seminars in the region and internationally,” explains Pepetsa. “The experiences and knowledge acquired in these events contributed greatly to the creation of TRANSformar.moz.”
At some of the international events, she served as a national representative for young key populations. One of the issues that she has consistently focused on is improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of transgender people and sex workers and changing the negative narratives about transgender people in Mozambique.
Step-by-step growth and overcoming challenges
“The simple fact that we exist as an organization is already a source of pride,” says Pepetsa.
One of the aspects that makes her most proud is the organization’s involvement in several projects in its first year of existence. “We’re excited to have been working with UNDP, through the LPP project, as well as other international and regional organizations,” says the activist.
It is important for funders and development partners to review the stringent processes for accessing resources, especially for organizations established by young key populations, she says.
“We are a young NGO, and we lack our own office space and have no sustainable funding,” she explains, highlighting one of the biggest challenges facing her organization.
She would like to see several issues resolved for young key populations, especially young transgender people.
Pepetsa is of the view that there has been slow progress in the recognition of the rights of transgender people and the general LGBT community. To address this, she sees a need for increased education on sexual and gender identity at all levels of society, but especially policy makers and service providers.
The education system is not conducive for a transgender child to thrive at school, as they experience a lot of bullying, she says. “Most of the trans community simply finish 7th grade and leave school because of the stigma, prejudice, physical and verbal violence they suffer at school.”
As a way of reducing stigmatization and prejudice in schools, Pepetsa proposes that the Mozambican education system must incorporate issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in basic education curriculum at an earlier level than the current 8th grade introduction.
“I know that this is a process that will take a long time due to culture,” Pepetsa admits. “But we believe that things will someday change in our lifetime.”
Legal gender recognition in law is also critical for transgender people to reach their full potential, she says. Transgender persons must be able to change their names and sex in identity cards to match the gender they identify with. This will open doors and opportunities to employment, accessing higher levels of education and capital for economic development.
Another challenge is the lack of access to health services. Although some progress has been made, Pepetsa notes “there is a lot of stigmatization and prejudice in accessing basic health services. A trans person cannot go to the hospital and give the identity chosen by them, otherwise they will suffer prejudice,” she says, pointing to what she sees as the root of the problem: “The lack of recognition creates obstacles in the access of services in society.”
Furthermore, health services are not adequately tailored to the needs of transgender people, she says, giving the example that many from her community go to South Africa for hormonal therapy.
A window of opportunity
Pepetsa sees a window of opportunity to make progress in resolving some of the challenges facing young key populations.
One of the activities in the pipeline is a size estimate of young key populations, which will help the community to advocate for comprehensive services and recognition by the state when designing and planning inclusive policies and programmes.
“We collectively seek to build a society with greater acceptance of gender and sexual diversity, without discrimination, where trans people can live in safety,” explains Pepetsa, adding that there is an opportunity to promote greater inclusion of rights across the Southern African Development Community region.
This story was written by Mateus Fotine, Communications and Visibility Officer, UNDP Mozambique.