Meredith Williams

Meredith Williams (Vikalp Women’s Group): Meredith worked for seven years in human resources at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). She then joined the PBS Foundation to work on fundraising. Meredith was in her final year at Georgetown University Law Center when she undertook her fellowship at Vikalp and visited Vikalp in the spring of 2011 with a team of students from Georgetown Law’s Community Justice Project clinic. After her fellowship Meredith wrote: “There is no question that the best part of my fellowship was the people that I worked with. Maya and Indira, and the work that they do, are inspiring, but also the people that Parma serves were 100% gracious and welcoming to us.”

It’s really just about human rights

11 Jul

Sam Syverson wrote a blog earlier this summer in response to the question “aren’t there bigger problems in India?” In it, she argued that advocating for transgender rights is just as important as fighting poverty and other traditional issues people think of when working in a developing country because transgender individuals deal with these same problems, often at a magnified level. Even in the United States, one of the most developed countries in the world, transgender individuals struggle to access basic services like healthcare (see Dagen’s video on

One of the most significant hurdles that advocates face in the fight for equal treatment for transgender individuals is that most people do not think of transgender rights as human rights. The United Nations disagrees. On June 15, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) passed a resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the resolution, the UNHCR expressed “grave concerns” about the acts of violence and discrimination that people around the world face as a result of their gender identity and sexual orientation. The Council also commissioned a study “to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The study will also explore “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The resolution was based in part on the Yogyakarta Principles, launched at the UNHCR meeting on March 26, 2007, which begin with “the right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.” Some of the other twenty-eight principles include: the right to recognition before the law, the right to security of the person, the right to privacy, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to found a family. They seem pretty simple, right? For most of the individuals that Parma works with, these are not much more than a dream.

Parma is currently conducting a survey of transgender individuals in Gujarat, India, the community that they serve. While every story is different, at least some of the respondents thus far have indicated that they:

1)      Are self-employed, because the harassment and discrimination that comes with working for a public or private organization is not worth the job stability;

2)      Are unable to move freely within or outside of India because they cannot obtain a passport or other form of identification that matches their true gender;

3)      Are unable to obtain adequate health care because the gender on their identification document does not match their gender expression (external manifestation of their gender identity) or they require sexual reassignment surgery that is unavailable;

4)      Did not obtain a sufficient level of education because they were not able to wear the uniform of their true gender;

5)      Are unable to start a family because non-heterosexual marriage and civil unions are illegal in their country, which also blocks access to all of the rights that come with a legal recognition of their commitment to their partners.

While there is hope among India’s LGBTI community that the Supreme Court will recognize at least one of the Yogyakarta Principles – the right to privacy – by upholding the Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalize sodomy, transgender Indians in particular still lack even the most basic human rights, as recognized by the international community.

Posted By Meredith Williams

Posted Jul 11th, 2011

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