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Transgender women face systemic discrimination in Lebanon: HRW

Transgender women face “systemic discrimination” in various aspects of life in Lebanon, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which called on parliament to pass anti-discrimination law.

The New-York-based rights group said in its report, published on Tuesday, that transgender women face “systemic discrimination in education, employment, housing, and the provision of healthcare” in the country.

The report is based on 50 interviews with Lebanese transwomen and transgender refugees and asylum seekers from other countries in the Middle East – all of whom reside in Lebanon.

This discrimination is exacerbated by a lack of resources “tailored for trans people’s needs” and by their “difficulty in obtaining identification documents that reflect their gender identity and expression,” the report said.

Many of these interviewed by the group reported difficulty in obtaining stable jobs in the country due to the lack of official identification documents that match their gender expression.

Though this can be changed via a court ruling, those interviewed by HRW said procedural obstacles including “high fees, reluctance to engage in protracted court proceedings, and lack of legal assistance” has discouraged them from seeking to change their gender markers.

“Legal gender recognition is an essential element of other fundamental rights including the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, rights related to employment, education, health, and the ability to move freely,” HRW noted.

‘I run for my life’

Transwomen also often face routine violence, the threat of violence and arrest, and are denied police protection, according to the report.

While Lebanese law does not explicitly criminalise being transgender, article 534 of the penal code punishes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” with up to one year in prison.

According to the findings of the report, this law has been used to enforce arrests on transgender women who are misidentified as “gay men.”

They are also targeted under laws of “violating public morality,” “incitement to debauchery,” and “secret prostitution”.

Conditions under which they are held include “being denied food and water, the right to make a phone call, being placed in overcrowded cells, and physically abused”.

Transwomen regularly face and are forced to escape domestic violence. HRW says 38 out of the 50 interviewed transwomen reported experiencing “extreme violence” by a male relative.

Maria, 23, says she was “beaten, burned, and tied up in metal chains” by her father.

“He beat me every day and kept saying, ‘Be a man.’ He wanted to beat the woman out of me,” she was quoted by HRW as saying.

Others report feeling unsafe in public spaces, fearing harassment and physical abuse.

“Every time I get targeted on the street, I run for my life. Because first, it’s just one person, then I find a gang of six or seven men around me and they want my blood,” 24-year-old Bella said.

These fears are often intensified in the case of transgender refugees, HRW says.

Natalie, a 22-year-old Syrian national, said: “My uncle broke my nose, my teeth, and stabbed me in the eye.

“When he found out that I’m in Lebanon, he said, ‘I will slaughter you.’

There are more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. While the country faces economic and political challenges, Lebanese leaders have repeatedly urged Syrian refugees to return to their country, which is now in its ninth year of civil war.

HRW called on the Lebanese parliament to pass “comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation“, and on security forces to halt the arrest of transgender women on the basis of their gender identity.

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