A teenager who reached United Nations for advocacy

Kathmandu/Pahichan – Rukshana Kapali who identifies herself a transgender woman reached at United Nations in Geneva to highlight the issues of LGBTI and transgender in specific.

From 15 to 25 June, 23 transgender activists from 19 countries gathered in Geneva Switzerland to intervene in United Nation’s 38th Human Rights Council where they met special rapporteurs, UN agencies and various stakeholders.

At the age of 19, Rukshana has been able to establish herself as an activist who is strongly vocal for many issues such as indigenous people, LGBTI, feminism and so on. She maintains a prolific blog in three languages.

She has her hands from street protests to media house. It has been around two years since she joined Pahichan Media and Blue Diamond Society and is actively working to write about LGBTI issues and has reached in various Asia Pacific regional level programs.

With all the effort she did, she was successful to attend Trans Advocacy week at the UN and intervene at international level. Among all the 22 trans activists in the team, she was the youngest. The week was hosted by International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Society(ILGA).

During the Human Rights Council there was a side event where Rukshana was a panelist too. The panel on mainstreaming gender identity and expression in feminist and gender equality work where UN state delegates and organizations from various part of the world attended.

On the panel were Vaito’a Toelupe (Samoa), Rukshana Kapali (Nepal), Islem Mejri (Tunisia), Eszter Kismodi (Switzerland) along moderator: Joshua Seehole (South Africa). Feminist movements have been in existence for over a century, and women’s rights have advanced in national and UN spaces, including in various resolutions and the establishment of agencies working specifically on the rights of women and girls.

 Feminist movements have not always been inclusive of trans movements and identities, and in some cases can be openly hostile, especially to people with trans feminine identities and expressions. Partly as a result of this, trans movements and feminist movements have not always worked together on shared objectives.

This panel discussed how, in the 21st century, transgender rights can and should be a central part of gender equality and gender rights work, and how the concept of gender can broaden to be more inclusive of diverse identities, linguistic and cultural differences and terminologies.

The panel reflected on the reasons behind framing gender and gender equality as only pertaining to “women and girls” both in feminism and the international human rights framework, especially the impact colonialism.

The panel looked at responsibilities that various stakeholders have in creating inclusive approaches, spaces and policies, including feminist and trans activists and organizations, generalist human rights organizations, UN agencies and governments.

The speakers discussed the importance of broadening the scope and understanding of what gender is, including problematizing the gender binary that our systems are built on. They also touched upon the importance of intersectionality and working across movements and agendas.

Rukshana Kapali started with explaining what gender means and how diverse is the spectrum of gender. She explained her own challenges as a trans person and what common misconceptions she faces. As a feminist, she strongly emphasized how feminism should take trans issues along. Meanwhile she also talked about intersections in these activisms and why it matters.

She was also part of meetings with International Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Public consultation on SOGIB, Private meeting with Independent SOGI expert, where they talked about cultural gender identities, trans peoples’ access to health, access to institutions (health, education), Trans Asylum Seekers and Detention settings on gender identities.

She also had been a part of private meeting with special rapporteur of health, where it was talked that existing health programs for transgender people are limited to providing services like HIV tests, distributing lubricants and condoms completely leaving out mental health, sexual reproductive health, hormone replacement therapy for transgender people. There is segregation in health facilities where no health practitioner is at hand to assist trans persons. It followed by Trans rights meetings and a panel of Yogakarta principles.

In the meeting with special rapporteurs of migration, she raised issues of challenges faced by LGBTI internal migrants, migrants who cross open border of Nepal and India and migrants who go abroad. “Especially many Nepalese seek for job in Gulf countries due to unemployment. These are unsafe zones for LGBTI people. They can even be executed”, she says. Similarly, trans people who have gender markers “O” on their passports have difficulties in moving across the world and specially at immigration. She also talked about migration with-in countries and  displacement of indigenous people. LGBTI people who are vulnerable and marginalized are being trafficked.

She also had meeting with UNHCR where she talked that many LGBTI people are seeking for a safer zone and in South Asia Nepal is comparatively safer place. Due to this many LGBTI people across South Asia seek for refugee in Nepal. Indians can freely come due to an open border, but people from other South Asian countries have other hacks to get in. The other meeting with ILO talked about experiences and challenges/vulnerability of LGBTI child labour, companies’ and non-discrimination work in diversity and labour unions.

“The meeting was very fruitful to me and all. Personally, I got a good learning on advocacy, and at this level. Moreover this week and all the trans activists from 19 countries worked hard to make this week sucesfull in terms of trans advocacy”, she said.

Meanwhile in the free time she also held a playcard that protests against displacement of indigenous Newa population in the name of development. Rukshana Kapali is one of the initiating member of #SaveNepaValley movement, and she also stood for about an hour in front of the UN building in Palace des protestations holding a sign for the cause.

It is something inspiring that transgender people from Nepal have been able to make these achievements at a young age, and Rukshana Kapali is setting a stage for it.