At the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women held in October in Fiji, GG Baxter was a panelist at a side event to discuss the socio-economic impacts of violence and discrimination against Pacific LBT Women, and gender non-conforming people.
This is a slightly edited part of Gigi’s moving speech at the event, talking about the impacts of bullying she faced in school and how it led to her later dropping out of school. As the theme of the Triennial was ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment’, it was clear that violence against women, especially LBT women, both in and out of the school setting, can greatly impact their opportunities to become economically empowered.
As a transwoman growing up, I had a goal of becoming a powerful fashionista lawyer with a wardrobe full of stylish dresses instead of the traditional boring black and white garb.
I dreamt of living with my man in a big house with a big swimming pool and to be the pride of my family and to be able to help people in my community. However, these dreams were dashed in school given the systemic bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence faced because of my gender identity as a transwoman.
The perpetrators were both students and teachers. I will never forget the 18th of April 2005 when a group of 45+ boys brutally attacked me in a boy’s dormitory and gang beat me while a teacher watched and let them go on. Going to school after that was torture and I dropped out of school that same year. I was in Year 12. My dreams were dashed right there and then, gone with the wind. The education system failed me. I am now working as a full time volunteer for the VPride Foundation with irregular income and staying with my aunty.
This was my story and I am certain that there are many other untold similar stories of my sisters and brothers LGBT from the Pacific.
The experiences that we LBT women go through makes our daily living in the community very difficult socially, emotionally, physically and ECONOMICALLY. Because we become victims of violence, stigma and discrimination, our self-esteem and self-confidence becomes dramatically low.
When we drop out of school:
- Our access to job opportunities are reduced
- Our access to affordable transport, finance and micro schemes, Health and Education (vocational school/ training) are limited
- Our vulnerability to risky behaviors and engaged in sex work, unsafe sex, violence and rape increases
- Our access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights services are limited
Some of the Pacific LGBT networks have strategies in place to economically empower LBT women who drop out of school. This include the following:
- Tonga- Miss Galaxy Pageant
The Tongan Miss Galaxy Pageant is one of the biggest events in Tonga where it has a very good impact and theme messages to highlight issues. The money raised in the Pageant provides scholarships to Tongan Leitis to pursue further technical and vocational education. Graduates are now teaching, run their own businesses in hair styling, catering, etc.
- Vanuatu – Oxfam in Vanuatu has included VPride to be part of their Socio Economic Empowerment Design program. The design ensures inclusion of rural women including LBT women in their social and economic empowerment programs.
- Vanuatu – Wan Smol Bag and VPride (The only Gender Diverse Organization in Vanuatu) organize livelihood workshops to help identify skills of VPride members and how to harness and nurture it to help them utilize it to generate income for themselves. This strategy requires more support and follow-up for it to be truly successful.
I would like to make some recommendations that I think that will help us improve the economic situation or economically empower LBT women:
- All partners to support the current strategies being implemented as discussed earlier.
- Reform of the education system to address the pervasive violence and discrimination that LBT women face in schools. We need to address the root causes of this problem. We need to strengthen anti-bullying policies and penalties. We need to make all educational establishments a safe space for learning for all LBT people.
- Incorporate SOGIESC in the education curricular so that we can start sensitizing our future leaders of the need to recognize diversity in all forms. This will ensure that future LBT people can grow in inclusive and free societies.
- Increase or improve access to justice for LBT women to address issues of violence and discrimination in education settings.
- Creating an inclusive pathway for LBT women who are victims of bullying to continue education and attend vocational training.
The Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs clearly highlights “In committing to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States recognized that the dignity of the individual is fundamental and that the Agenda’s Goals and targets should be met for all nations and people and for all segments of society. Furthermore, they endeavored to reach first those who are furthest behind.”
So leave no one behind. We LBT women are here to stay. I am your sister, brother, aunty, uncle, nephew or niece or friend and relative of a friend you know or a relative of friend of friend you know. We are all Pacific islanders and are connected in some way. Let’s embrace and respect our diversities and celebrate our similarities.
Include me, an LBT woman, in critical policy spaces to learn and develop a deeper understanding about my issues and realities and more importantly, to achieve my dreams. I have the right to complete my education without violence, stigma and discrimination so I can have a better life where I am economically self- reliant and independent.
Gigi Baxter is a human rights activist with a focus on LGBT. Follow VPride on Facebook.