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Philippines and Myanmar Striving for Domestic & Family Violence Protections




Grace Poore

In 2018, Outright received a two-year grant from the Human Rights Initiative of Open Society Foundations to lay the groundwork for an Asia regional platform of LGBTI-centered expertise on domestic and family violence (DV/FV) – providing opportunities for ideas and advocacy exchange and linking national anti-DV/FV initiatives to a regional platform on SOGIE and gender-based violence (GBV). The grant also supports two country projects – a new Myanmar initiative undertaken in partnership with Outright’s country partner, Equality Myanmar to advocate DV/FV legal protections for LGBT people and educate LGBT communities about DV/FV, and a Phase 2 Philippines project undertaken with EnGendeRights, Inc. to improve LGBTI help-seeking for DV/FV services from local government units (barangays) that were trained in Phase 1 of the project in 2016-2018. 

Two years later, in 2020, there are several positive developments and outcomes of the project. 

First, Outright has established an Asia network to regionalize efforts to improve domestic and family violence protections and services for LGBTI people and bring regional visibility to challenges that LGBTI communities face.

Second, the Philippines and Myanmar projects brought partners together to address violence that many LGBTI people don’t even recognize as violence. COVID-19 related community quarantines, job and income loss, significantly reduced mobility, and reduced social services have increased the vulnerability of LGBTI people residing in homes where there is violence. The new normal, as Myanmar and Philippines LGBTI advocates note, is more violence in the home. 

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted implementation of some in-person trainings, public awareness campaigns, and community forums. However, Outright staff and partner organizations adapted by moving activities online. This brought some new challenges, such as the digital and technological divide in LGBTI communities and in the service provider sector, especially when offices are under COVID lockdown and organizational priorities and resources refocused to addressing emergencies stemming from the pandemic.

Philippines Project 

Outright and country partner, EnGendeRights trained 142 service personnel from 64 barangays (local government units) in Quezon City. As part of their training, barangay service providers learned how to ensure friendly and safe service environments, how to ensure sensitive and respectful interactions with LGBTI people seeking assistance, how to provide psychological first aid to LGBTI persons facing DV/FV, and how to obtain legal remedies for LGBTI victim-survivors.  A Quezon City service protocol was produced to aid barangays handle LGBTI cases of violence. 

The Philippines project also trained 45 members of LGBTI communities who are either working in the barangays or are leaders of LGBTI groups residing in participating barangays. They learned about LGBTI rights to safety and non-violence at home, benefits of seeking help to deal with abuse by family and intimate partners, and how to spread awareness about domestic and family violence to LGBTI people and allies. 

A Zoom webinar, titled “Because I Love You: An Honest Discussion on Domestic Violence and Family Violence Experienced by LGBTIQ People” replaced an in-person community forum. The webinar was conducted in Tagalog and had 2,400 Facebook views, 286 Facebook participants, and 138 Zoom participants. More webinars are planned.

Barangays were asked to complete a service-monitoring questionnaire to measure how well they were implementing the training in their service practices and to show what kind of services LGBTI people were seeking for domestic and family violence. Preliminary data from 20 of the 64 trained barangays provides a first-time glimpse at the project’s impact on LGBTI people facing domestic and family violence. 

  • 30 LGBTI people sought assistance from the barangays – 23 for partner violence and 7 for family violence. The lesbians were all masculine-presenting, the gay men were masculine presenting (3) and feminine-presenting (5).
  • 5 of the lesbians and 8 of the gay men who sought barangay services were physically abused in their relationships, including being slapped, punched and kicked; 6 lesbians and 12 gay men were emotionally abused by their intimate partners with verbal humiliation, berating and threats; 1 gay man was sexually assaulted on a date.
  • For both lesbians and gay men, family violence involved being slapped, punched in the face, things thrown at them, verbal insults, berating, and threats of eviction from the house. Family perpetrators were mostly brothers, fathers and other male relatives.
  • 29 LGBTI people (17 lesbians, 12 gay men) received counseling from barangays for partner violence and family violence.
  • 1 gay man received a police referral from his barangay; 2 gay men were referred to their barangay for mediation.
  • 1 barangay helped admit a lesbian to hospital for injuries and offered her legal remedies. She declined to file a complaint with police.

The service providers credit the trainings they received from Outright and EnGendeRights for giving them the knowledge, confidence, and skills to implement LGBTI interventions correctly and appropriately. 

It is important to note that LGBTI people were not only service-users but also among the training beneficiaries. Outright’s project coordinator, Ging Cristobal and EnGendeRight’s project coordinator, Claire Padilla, say: “LGBTI participants are more confident about demanding equal treatment from society and respect from family members. They feel empowered and inspired to share their new knowledge from the training with other LGBTI members of their communities and promote two key messages – not to endure discrimination and violence and to seek help and support.” 

These outcomes signal that the Philippines project is bringing positive changes to LGBTI communities, specifically increased and improved services for LGBTI people and greater visibility of LGBTI sensitized services. Importantly, it has increased the willingness of LGBTI people to seek help from the barangays for domestic and family violence.

Myanmar Project

In Myanmar, Outright launched a project with Equality Myanmar to capacitate LGBT groups to advocate for LGBT-inclusive language in the Prevention of Violence Against Women Law. This draft law has stalled for seven years but is predicted to pass in post-election 2021 as there are many more LGBT allies in the new parliament. 

The Myanmar project raised visibility of domestic and family violence in LGBT communities. The partnership with Outright produced the first study on LGBT domestic and family violence in Myanmar, filling a critical gap in data on LGBT experiences of this violence.  Up to 63 lesbians, bisexual women, transgender men and transgender women in Yangon and Mandalay were interviewed by eight LGBT advocates trained by Outright and Equality Myanmar to gather the data. 

Findings of the study confirm a trend already documented in other Asian countries, that family is a significant source of violence against LGBT people. Furthermore, COVID-19 has increased this violence. Equality Myanmar published findings in “Rainbow Tears,” available in Burmese and English.

Some of the study’s key findings:

  • Family violence against LBT people in Myanmar started in adolescence and was usually perpetrated by parents, older siblings or other relatives. 
  • The violence involved physical and verbal abuse and typically started when LBT people disclosed their sexual orientation or their same sex partnerships were accidentally discovered or “deliberately blabbed.” Other family reactions included disowning, evicting, and/or publicly humiliating LBT people for their sexual  orientation and gender variance. 
  • Physical violence was also used to punish non-conforming gender expression – i.e., being “too feminine and soft” or “too masculine and tough.”  This violence came from parents or older brothers.
  • Some LBT persons in the study also reported being sexually abused by family members.
  • During COVID-19, domestic and family violence “exponentially increased.”  According to the study, for LGBT people, the “new normal” included “increased psychological stress,  undermined right to privacy, and increased control, intimidation and coercion” by family members or intimate partners. COVID reduced escape options from violent homes because of stay-at-home measures, sudden job lay-offs, and income loss. 
  • About 50% of study participants said that pre-COVID they experienced “family acceptance” but during the pandemic, the family environment became verbally and physically violent because LBT family members were unable to bring home the same amount of income or had lost their income from COVID-related shutdowns. 
  • Results of the “Rainbow Tears” study helped develop content for a 5-minute animated video about LGBT and domestic violence, which aired on Human Rights Education (HRE) TV, YouTube and Facebook.  The video advocates zero tolerance for domestic violence and urges  protections for all, including LGBT people.

A third component of the Myanmar project was training LGBT group leaders to raise awareness about domestic and family violence in their communities and teach them advocacy strategies for pushing protection for all victims of domestic violence without any distinction or discrimination. 

In September 2020, the deputy director general of the Ministry of Social Welfare announced that an online counseling hotline is being set up for domestic violence victims in Myanmar and services will include LGBT people. This ministry also promised that government counselors would be given orientation on LGBT issues. This outcome is attributed to efforts carried out in this project.

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