While most people know about and acknowledge that violence against women exists–across the world, over 1 in 3 (35%) women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime–many people do not realise that trans women experience the same violence compounded by even more severe and insidious forms of violence and discrimination.
Among the biggest causes of violence against trans women include: culturally enforced gender binaries and stereotypes; religion-driven bigotry; structural discrimination (where discriminatory national legal frameworks exist); and institutionalised and institutional discrimination (conscious and unconscious discrimination by service providers and authorities). Check out our primer on violence against trans women for more basic information.
Notably, in countries and cultures where trans people have historically been accepted as part of society, it is the Western colonial construction of the gender binary and transphobia and the continued enforcement of this gender hegemony that have led to today’s widespread discrimination and violence against trans women (and the wider LGBTQ+ community).
In light of the ongoing danger and violence that the deadly combination of anti-trans bigotry and misogyny inflicts on trans women, here are 16 ideas for action that individuals, organisations and governments can take to make a difference in preventing and stopping violence against trans women. While not all of the suggestions in this may work for every person, community, or organisation, we hope that this will be a useful starting point.
Introduction by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau. Written by Anushia Kandasivam. Researched by Anushia Kandasivam and Vani Bhardwaj.
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Idea For Action #1: Educate yourself, educate your peers
Even if you know about violence against women (VAW) in general, the experiences of trans women and other LGBTQIA+ women and girls may be different. Educate yourself on their specific issues and concerns then educate others you know and encourage them to educate themselves. You don’t have to overwhelm them; just start with the importance of using the correct name and pronouns for transgender people. According to GLAAD, using a person’s correct pronouns and proper name is “a way of respecting them and referring to them in a way that’s consistent and true to who they are.” Basically, the same as any cis-gender person.
Idea For Action #2: Stand up, speak up
If you see something, say something. Trans women experience the same types of violence as cis women, plus other forms of discrimination and violence. If you witness bullying, discrimination or violence (physical/emotional/psychological), speak up in any way you can that allows you and the victim to remain safe. Report it to the authorities or take whatever action you can to show a bully you (and your peers) do not tolerate such discrimination and/or violence.
Idea For Action #3: Call your political representative and make your vote count
Speak to your local political representative, find out about their policies concerning transgender rights and preventing violence against trans women, and inform them that you (and voters like you) want a representative who works on these issues. Vote for transgender-inclusive policies and candidates. The 2015 landmark judgement by India’s Supreme Court that declared transgender people as a third gender and affirmed their fundamental rights under the country’s constitution is a great example of how an individual activist, a non-profit and a government organisation came together to institute nation-wide change.
Idea For Action #4: Share online content to spread the word about violence against trans women
Use your social media to share stories and statistics that highlight the prejudice, discrimination and violence that trans women face. But don’t forget to also share positive stories about transgender lives and experiences. Share resources and use your platform to encourage people to educate themselves and work together to end violence against trans women.
Idea For Action #5: Respect trans women’s privacy
Do not make assumptions about a person’s gender identity, sex characteristics and sexual orientation. Never out a transgender person without their explicit permission. Safety is paramount to trans women, and any other member of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially if they live in areas where they are not accepted into mainstream spaces. In some places, trans women are criminalised or subjected to social and institutional violence, and they may be subjected to family violence as well. Always respect their privacy.
Idea For Action #6: Elevate the visibility of trans women
If you know trans women who are already out, use your voice to elevate their visibility in your community. Visibility is important for many reasons, including allowing people to realise they know someone who is trans, “normalising” trans women’s presence in society and bringing more attention to the unique issues that trans women face, including violence.
Idea For Action #7: Support your local LGBTQIA+ organisations
Look up the organisations in your area or country that support transgender rights and donate to them – your time or money. Organisations working to end violence against women and girls (including trans women) are notoriously underfunded and overlooked by development assistance funds. LGBTQIA+ organisations and women’s organisations that are small and serve a specific local area struggle for funding even more, so they could do with all the help they can get. So give what you can.
Idea For Action #8: Demand policies and action from your workplace, union, school or club
Get together with your colleagues, classmates or teammates and demand anti-VAW and zero-tolerance policies that positively include trans women. Trans women face severe economic hardship and instability all over the world due to job and pay discrimination, and face homelessness due to this economic hardship or rejection from family, leaving them vulnerable to violence. So use your voice to demand equal treatment (in jobs, opportunity, pay, etc). Demand that action is taken to implement policies in a timely and fair manner.
For Organisations, Companies, and Governments
Idea For Action #9: Create a gender equitable culture and workplace
Most organisations and workplaces nowadays already have policies that strive to treat men and women equally but exclude trans women (and other LGBTQIA+ people) simply because they are not explicitly mentioned or because of conscious or unconscious bias. These are not just policies against bullying or harassment but also equal pay and opportunity. Trans women are among the lowest paid people working full-time. Update your policies to specifically disallow discrimination of trans women and discrimination based on gender identity and expression. And then implement these policies. Ensure your organisation addresses complaints and allegations immediately, efficiently and fairly.
Idea For Action #10: Take action to prevent violence
Companies, organisations and governments should be vocal about and adopt measures aimed at protecting trans women from violence and discrimination, irrespective of gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics or sexual orientation. Investigate and provide remedies for acts of violence against trans women and hold perpetrators accountable, and also have in place the same protections for the people who defend the rights of trans women. Enact policies or legislation that address hate speech and hate crimes against trans women (and other LGBTQIA+ people).
Idea For Action #11: Educate, train and sensitise team members, staff and workers
Companies can provide training, resources and opportunities for their people to learn about violence against trans women and about the wider LGBTQIA+ community, starting with their leadership and human resources teams. Governments should train law enforcement and judicial officials, and public healthcare workers on how to: treat trans women with dignity and respect; provide them with effective protection, access to justice and healthcare; and combat harmful stereotypes and bias.
Idea For Action #12: Educate the public through leading by example
Governments – local, state or federal – are the best placed to carry out public education campaigns to combat the root causes of violence and discrimination against trans women, including negative or harmful gender norms and stereotypes. Of course, this does not mean that a company or organisation cannot do the same. Partner up with and use the resources and knowledge of local or international non-profits that work with trans women to provide comprehensive gender and sexuality education based on human rights that is inclusive of trans women.
Idea For Action #13: Repeal discriminatory laws and enact inclusive laws
In many countries, trans women, along with others in the LGBTQIA+ community, are subject to discriminatory laws or outright criminalised, which leads to social and institutional discrimination and horrific violence. Governments should repeal laws that criminalise trans women and laws used to arrest, punish, detain, harass or discriminate against trans women and against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Existing laws should be amended to include rights for trans women.
Idea For Action #14: Ensure trans women have equal access to essential services
Trans women face institutionalised and institutional discrimination, including unconscious and conscious transphobia of service providers and authorities. Public and private healthcare providers should ensure that trans women have access to essential medical procedures without abusive requirements. Healthcare providers should be educated and sensitised on the specific health needs of trans women and ensure that they have access to safe, non-discriminatory health services that address their specific concerns, including their sexual reproductive health and rights.
Idea For Action #15: Support and participate in inclusive anti-violence against women campaigns
Anti-violence against women non-profits are some of the most severely understaffed and underfunded in the world. Companies and organisations can support non-profits that combat violence against trans women either financially or by encouraging their people to volunteer their time. Governments can work in partnership with these non-profits to create far-reaching national campaigns and initiatives that include trans women. For example, the New South Wales (NSW) government in Australia is currently delivering $2 million over three years to boost mental health support services and an additional $300,000 to empower trans and gender diverse communities as part of the 2022-23 NSW Budget.
Idea For Action #16: Ensure fair, equal and representative reporting
There is an enormous lack of investment in data collection on violence against and killings of LGBTQIA+, with misgendering of victims leading to gross underreporting of violence against trans women around the world. Media organisations should ensure their reporters use the correct pronouns along with respectful and accurate language in their news reports. Governments and organisations should support safe disaggregated data collection on the situation of trans women, not just in relation to violence but also in relation to poverty, employment, housing, health, education, sports, immigration and access to public services.
Resources and Further Reading:
- “Violence against women”, World Health Organization
- “‘Gender hegemony’: How colonialism distorted African perspectives of trans identity”, Minority African
- “Transphobia in Commonwealth countries is an injustice left over from British colonialism. It’s time we addressed it”, Pink News
- “Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex and Queer (LGBTQ+) Women”, United Nations Free & Equal”
- “A Guide To Gender Identity Terms”, NPR
- “National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India”, Wikipedia
- India court recognises transgender people as third gender, BBC
- “How to Help End the Epidemic of Violence Against Trans People”, Them
- “Violence against women and girls is overlooked and underfunded”, Spotlight Initiative
- “2015 US Transgender Survey”, U.S Trans Survey
- “Companies Are Failing Trans Employees”, Harvard Business Review
- “‘Those dollars and cents add up’: Full-time trans workers face a wage gap, poll finds”, The 19th
- “Major Companies Respond to Alarming Effort to Erase Transgender People From Legal Protections”, Out & Equal
- “Why You Should Consider Transgender Awareness Training In Your Workplace”, Forbes
- “Trans Legal Mapping Report”, ILGA World
- “Still Hidden in the Closet: Trans Women and Domestic Violence”, VAWnet
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide 11th Edition – Transgender People, GLAAD
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