“Hidden” plights of Nepali sexual minority workers

“Hidden” plights of Nepali sexual minority workers

Kathmandu : The hardships faced by the sexual and gender minority communities often go unnoticed, thanks to various circumstances including discriminations and stigmas.

The lack of their access to job opportunities at home has forced them to seek jobs abroad only to add to their sufferings. Maya Gurung, a third gender woman, is a case in point. Without job prospects back at home, she left for Saudi Arabia 16 years ago.

But her dream of a better life turned disastrous. There, she faced gender-based discriminations. She did the same work as others, but did not get the equal payment. Not only that, her employer fired her from work due to her sexuality.

Her pain-filled story does not end here. She became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her co-workers, and got her payments snatched away. In the face of possible gender-based discrimination, she hid her real identity. In the course of work, she befriended a gay man. Saudi Arabia has strict laws for people from the sexual and gender minorities. “Forget revealing your identity, you will be jailed if you show your real identity in Saudi Arabia. You have to suffer severe punishment,” she shares.

She might have been in prison, if she had revealed her real identity. “If I had revealed my identity, they would have taken me to a prison. I found a friend who had the same feelings as me,” she recounts, “He told all his friends that he is a gay, and the friends took up the matter with the manager, and the employer called the police, and he was sent to a prison.”

Due to the country’s situation, many sexual and gender minority communities like Maya have reached gulf countries in search of job opportunities. “We had to toil to make our dreams come true on the conditions that if we survive, we will return home and meet families,” she shares her predicament abroad.

Giving in to the situation brought to her abroad, she had attempted suicide once. “Once I tried to commit suicide in Saudi Arabia,” she recollects the past, “I immediately collected myself, and started working in another company, increasing my self-strength.”

However, her sufferings did not end despite changing the workplace. She faced the same suffering in another company too. “Even after changing the workplace, I was harassed and given the same job again in the new company,” she says, “I was denied flight tickets to return to Nepal. I had to spend 7 years doing whatever I did. I was denied food and accommodation timely.”

Maya’s journey to live with her real identity is hard though. She identified herself as a third gender at the age of 12. “I knew at the age of 12 that I was different from others,” she says, “I used to dance in girl’s clothes from a young age. As I got older, I became more attracted to men, not women.”

Due to her sexuality, she had to face the discrimination at the hands of her Nepali peers abroad. She also suffered from mental problems when her family forced her to marry a woman. She went abroad to flee the forced marriage because she could not bear the pressure of her family.

She worked in Saudi Arabia for hardly seven years. “People from other countries used to tease me, even Nepali people used to tease me. I could not open up and reveal my true identity, although I have different feelings from others,” she shares.

Eventually, she returned home seven years ago. However, her struggle as a third gender woman continued back home too. Unable to find work, she started a business as a street vendor. At her business, she continued to become a victim of discrimination from the police administration as well. They used to chase her away saying ‘Third gender pulling a good cart? she says.

Maya and her spouse Surendra Pandey are now the first in South Asia to legally register same-sex marriage in Nepal. She also serves as President of Mayako Pahichan Nepal, a non-profit organisation in Nepal working for the rights of the sexual and gender minorities.

Not only third genders, the same sufferings are faced by also homosexuals abroad. Suresh Adhikari (name changed), who reached Qatar nine years ago worked for a security service company hiding his identity to avoid discrimination.

“When I first arrived in the city of Madinat Khalifa, an international stadium was under construction there, for which workers from other countries were demanded,” he says. “Since Qatar is a Muslim country, and the sexual and gender minorities are looked down upon, I had to work hiding my identity.”

He worked in Qatar for two years. But there, every day he felt like he was dead. “How can you feel comfortable and safe in a place where you don’t have the right to live and work with dignity, and where your identity is considered unnatural and a crime?” he asks.

Many people in Qatar are subjected to violence based on sexual orientation, gender and sexuality, he shares. Even in the face of violence, some people who cannot get legal remedy have to suffer. There is no employment security for the sexual and gender minorities.

Pukar Majhi (name changed), who had reached Saudi Arabia six years ago in search of job opportunities, suffered the same pain as Maya and Suresh. “When I came to Saudi Arabia for the first time, I didn’t know the language nor did I know the rules,” he says.

However, he had to face discriminations by giving him various nicknames for his appearance. He was called “chhaka” or “hijada” in an insulting manner. “Besides people from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka, even Nepali friends used to call me a hijada for my appearance,” he says.

He also suffered sexual violence from a Bangladeshi room partner. “I have been sexually abused by a Bangladeshi roommate at my residence. Since Saudi Arabia is a country where women do not have the same freedom as men and women’s access to fulfill their sexual desires is difficult and women’s laws are also strict, men secretly use men to satisfy their sexual desires.”

He also went through mental problems. “It was not that thoughts of suicide never came to my mind. On the one hand, I came abroad with a loan. On the other, there is no work and there is no comfortable working environment because of my sexuality,” he says. “Saudi Arabia itself is a country where homosexuality is considered a crime. Laws here bar me from revealing my identity.”

Homosexual, third gender foreign workers are discouraged here by deporting them to their home countries if their identity is revealed, he says.

As the International Workers’ Day was being observed, plights of workers from the sexual and gender minority communities are widespread, and they are still crying for their rights to work without discrimination.

Vice President of the Mayako Pahichan Nepal Madhu KC says that due to the lack of employment opportunities in Nepal, many people from the communities are working in gulf countries. “If you can’t find work in your own country, you have to go abroad for work. The sufferings they undergo in foreign countries are widespread and terrible, and there is no one to hear their woes.”

Most of countries including Nepal do not have sexual and gender minority friendly labor practices, thus worsening the situation. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 does not mention the rights of homosexuals.

Secretary of Mayako Pahichan Nepal Pandey says he is lobbying with the trade unions to end the suffering of the people from the communities who have gone abroad for jobs. He says that he requested the South Asian Trade Union to take initiatives to resolve the problems faced by the communities in the course of employment.

Bijaya Rai, who has been pressuring the Government of Nepal to ratify this convention, says Nepal should not delay in ratifying this convention. “The term homosexual, third gender may not be included in the convention. The government should not delay in ratifying this,” she says.

Sunil Babu Pant, Asia’s first openly gay former parliamentarian in Nepal, and the executive director for Mayako Pahichan Nepal, demands equal rights in employment for the sexual and gender minorities. Pointing out that foreign employment could not be secured for the communities, he emphasises the making of sexual and gender minority community friendly labour laws.

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