As the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the globe, the lives of trans and gender diverse people in Asia and the Pacific also began to change rapidly.
Throughout this crisis, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network has continued to monitor the developments and think about how it has affected trans communities and organisations throughout the region.
On 27 March 2020, we began a COVID-19 Rapid Assessment to document the challenges faced by trans and gender diverse people during this health crisis. This assessment consisted of an online survey, as well as direct interviews with some of our project partners.
The online survey was undertaken by 133 respondents from 42 countries, of which 100 were from 17 countries in Asia and the Pacific. 72.9% of respondents were 25 to 44 years old. 42.9% identified as trans women or trans feminine, 28.5% as trans men or trans masculine, and 11.3% as gender diverse or gender non-conforming. Direct interviews involved 10 partners from 9 countries.
The results were striking, and the impact and effects of COVID-19 are likely to have intensified since then. Here is a selection of the data.
When the survey was conducted, 32.95% of respondents were already struggling financially. Of the others, only 11.4% were able to sustain themselves beyond 7 weeks.
67.1% of the respondents do not have national health insurance, and 72.9% do not have private health insurance.
A question in the survey also asked what resources members of the community felt would be most useful at this time.
Some of the responses that country groups and organisations have undertaken are:
– Announcing internal COVID-19 measures / guidances that include working from home; practicing social distancing; following quarantine and curfew protocols of the government; distribution of masks and sanitisers
– Releasing solidarity statements to call in governments to ensure that emergency responses are centered in human rights standards for all
– Running crowdfunding and donation drives to gather food supplies and basic necessities that are distributed to affected trans communities impacted by COVID-19
For organisations who do not yet have COVID-19 interventions, they are working with or closely monitoring the emergency response efforts by other CSOs and the government, to ensure that their members and constituencies are able to access it
Country groups and organisations also expressed these urgent needs:
– A majority (if not all) of the project partners identified the urgent need for financial aid that would be used for food rations, basic necessities (for personal hygiene), payment for rent or other bills, etc. This is strongly echoed by partners in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
– A majority of project partners also shared the need for funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies such as masks, sanitisers and gloves. This is strongly echoed by partners in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
– A few country groups and organisations shared the need for psychological / mental health support through linking to peer support groups or remote access to counselors and mental health professionals. This is strongly echoed by partners in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
It is this data that helped shape the development of the APTN COVID-19 Community Support Fund, which provides funding to community groups and trans human rights defenders across Asia and the Pacific to help meet community realities and sustain their organisations’ operations and functions.
However, there is a lot more work that needs to be done, and greater financial investments and support are needed to address the structural and systematic barriers trans and gender diverse people face.
In fact, in one case study, one government has taken the opportunity to further extend discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.
We call for greater support from funders, donors, and other organisations to take into consideration the realities of communities on the ground and reprogramme and allocate resources to where it is most needed at this time, so that organisations can continue the critical work that they do in, and in spite of, this global pandemic.