How Coronavirus Is Affecting The Already Isolated Transgender Community
It is rather woeful to realise that despite all the luxuries in our households, we still feel devastated by this isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. However, there is a community that has been isolated ever since the genesis of Pakistan – the transgender community.
It is appalling how even in times of a pandemic, no one truly raised voice for this ill-fated community. However, this situation does not end at the transgender community but stretches and encompasses all marginalised communities present in Pakistan – the sweepers, sanitary workers and laborers.
With the entire world crippled by the coronavirus, our focus right now is on containing the pandemic. But our recovery will not be effective or complete if we forget our most vulnerable communities. As research from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) makes clear, the coronavirus crisis will disproportionately affect all of these marginalised communities in many ways. They are more likely to have a pre-existing medical condition, which means they are more likely to get sick and take a longer time to recover.
They are more likely to work in the service industry which means they are more likely to become unemployed during the crisis. As these vulnerable communities often have the least access to the information, resources, and care they need to stay healthy and safe, most of them are at the verge of contracting this fatal disease.
Instead of being committed to continuing services for these marginalised communities, the government has done nothing for these people writhed in despair; many of whom fall in the highest-risk categories for contracting COVID-19 – the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, individuals with significant mental health needs, the medically fragile, and those with co-occurring health conditions.
The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalised communities due to the loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. The government has a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the population, but some of these steps have left tens of thousands of out-of-work migrant workers stranded, with many local commute services forced to be closed.
The blanket closure of state borders has caused disruption in the supply of essential goods, leading to inflation and fear of shortages. Thousands of homeless people are in need of protection. Police actions to punish those violating orders have reportedly resulted in abuses against people in need.
There is also an ever growing concern about stigmatization of such individuals which could lead to a rise in vigilante violence in the unforeseeable future. Police in all provinces are actually trying to use force which can also lead to a rise in rebellions being ignited by releasing the pent up frustration these said individuals may have.
Such individuals like the transgender people are mostly cadging their way for a livelihood and the lockdown has even taken that from them as well. Now in deserted streets, these individuals fend from themselves without a dime in their pockets and no marriage or events they can perform at. The pandemic robbed them of their souls.
Although widely discussed in terms of the steps individuals should take, social distancing also demands commitment from federal, provincial, and local governments to support and protect particularly vulnerable populations. This is especially urgent for low-income and marginalised communities who are negatively affected by multiple social determinants of health, including people with disabilities; workers who do not have the option of staying home; people experiencing homelessness and who lack access to affordable, safe, and healthy housing; people of color; immigrants and refugees; and others who face increased risk of neglect or mistreatment by government authorities.
Fortunately, there are actions state and local governments can take immediately to support the ability of low-income and marginalised communities to safely shelter in place.
Many low-income individuals and families face significant challenges that do not let them protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Many lack the disposable income, flexible work schedules and the flexibility of working from home. Nor do they have paid leave required to take care of children whose schools are closed and whose educational attainment and social development may be set back for months. Others may be able to stay home, but their housing security may be at risk because they’ve lost their jobs or had hours cut back as a result of the pandemic. Being forced to choose between paying for food, health care, utilities, or other necessities and keeping up with rent will almost always result in eviction, and eviction always results in a downward move to worse conditions, including homelessness, and corollary poor health outcomes.
The government should now take steps in forming a specific COVID 19 crisis management team for the marginalised community that would address new issues and closely monitor all the latest developments with the pandemic.
The government should also adhere to the protocols of social distancing by providing adequate information and assign dedicated personnel for the tiger force announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan instead of sending out vulnerable students to distribute essentials from home to home.
Since transgenders are already vulnerable and tend to live in crammed up, overpopulated areas; the risk of the disease spreading in these areas is high.
The writer is a journalist and social media activist based in
Islamabad. He can be reached out on twitter @ShahabSpeaks