“More unites us than divides us”: Celebrating LGBTQIA on IWD 2022

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) under the 2022 UN theme: “Gender Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” The purpose of Women’s Day is to promote unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action. Whilst it has been shown that gender equality stimulates economic growth and fosters peace and prosperity in nations across the world, the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA) recognises that even in the conversation on gender, marginalized women, particularly lesbians, non-binary and trans women tend to continue to be excluded and oppressed.

The Williams Institute recently released a report about LGBTQIA women that serve as a stark reminder that they are an integral part of our society, and therefore, our fight against gender-based violence and institutionalized patriarchy. The report states that 6% of women in the USA are LQBTQIA; women are more likely than men to identify as LGBTQIA; 39% of LGBTQIA women are raising children; 42% of LGBTQIA women are women of colour and 31% of LGBTQIA women experienced food insecurity compared to 17% of non-LGBTQIA women.

Trans women in particular are at greater risk for their physical safety and healthcare needs being met than all other women. ARASA’s recent regional scan of the level of access to sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV services for transgender people in 6 southern African countries, suggests that up to 20% of the respondents stopped accessing public healthcare altogether due to continued stigmatization and abuse by healthcare workers.

Despite continued persecution, their gender identities and sexual orientations mean that trans women often find themselves at odds with what it looks like or means to “be a woman” and are therefore often excluded from the gender equality discourse.  As one of our trans allies in Namibia said recently: “We (trans people) are of no threat to cis-gender women. In fact, more unites us than divides us. We’re all living, second-best, in a man’s world.”

Although IWD started in 1928, a time when trans women were classified as sub-human and severely oppressed, we live in an era that can ensure the protection of the rights of ALL women. We at ARASA believe that sustainable peace and socio-economic prosperity will only be achieved by providing gender equality that is truly inclusive of ALL women. We therefore invite our partners and friends to celebrate the most marginalized women today. After-all, “more unites us than divides us”.