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In the Philippines, policy failures fuel HIV epidemic, says HRW

The Philippine government is fueling a rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic among men who have sex with men through policies that restrict interventions proven to prevent transmission of the virus, Human Rights Watch said in a report

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The Philippine government is fueling a rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic among men who have sex with men through policies that restrict interventions proven to prevent transmission of the virus, Human Rights Watch said in a report.

The 46-page report, “Fueling the Philippines’ HIV Epidemic: Government Barriers to Condom Use by Men Who Have Sex With Men,” documents the failure of national and local governments in the Philippines to address the growing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men.

The Philippines is facing one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region. According to official statistics, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men has increased tenfold in the last five years. National education on effective HIV prevention methods is nonexistent, and laws prohibit condom access and HIV testing to people under 18 without parental consent. These factors are contributing to the worsening epidemic among adolescent males who engage in same-sex practices.

“President Rodrigo Duterte has inherited a legacy of failed or counterproductive policies of previous administrations that are contributing to the alarming increase in HIV infections among men who have sex with men,” said Carlos H. Conde, Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Reducing HIV transmission isn’t rocket science. But it does require the Duterte government to implement an HIV prevention program and remove obstacles to condom and HIV testing access so that young Filipinos – particularly men who have sex with men – can protect themselves from an otherwise preventable illness.”

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While the Philippine government instituted effective policies in the 1990s targeting the HIV outbreak among commercial sex workers, it has failed to adapt its prevention strategies in line with the epidemic’s shifting epicenter. Although Department of Health reports indicate that 81 percent of recorded HIV cases since 1984 have been among men who have sex with men, the government has failed to target HIV-prevention measures at this group.

Instead, government policies have created obstacles to condom access and HIV testing, Human Rights Watch said. In January 2015, the Senate cut 1 billion pesos (about US$21 million) from the Department of Health’s budget for family planning commodities. Doctors have warned that without the Senate reinstating the needed funding, government clinics are likely to exhaust their condom supplies in early 2017. Local city governments in Balanga City and Sorsogon City have issued directives forbidding government clinics from procuring and distributing contraceptive products, including condoms.

These restrictions reflect the influence of conservative forces in government at both national and local levels, driven by the underlying authority of the Catholic Church. An estimated 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which stated in 2015 that Filipinos who contract HIV are products of “broken, dysfunctional families,” has had a longstanding obstructive influence on government health and education policies.

Despite national laws mandating compulsory sexuality education, the Philippine government has failed to provide adequate education programs on safe-sex practices. The majority of public and private schools provide no sex education classes or instruction on methods of prevention of sexually transmitted infections through safe-sex condom use. Promotion and commercial marketing of condoms ignores the population of men who have sex with men by focusing on heterosexual couples rather than lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people.

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Policies restricting access to condoms are a threat to public health, Human Rights Watch said. International law obligates states to ensure access to condoms and related HIV prevention services as part of the human right to the highest attainable standard of health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by the Philippines in 1974, directs governments to take steps necessary for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic … diseases,” including HIV/AIDS.

During the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Duterte spoke in favor of improving the rights of LGBT people, which LGBT rights activists hope will extend to needed policies for addressing the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men. Duterte has also committed to improving the “professional competence and operational capabilities” of public health care.

Philippine Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial announced on December 2 that the Department of Health will begin distributing condoms in Philippine schools in 2017 to address the rise in HIV infections among Philippine youth, and is considering the distribution of HIV self-testing kits. Those are positive initiatives if the government can ensure that children can access condoms and HIV self-testing kits through mechanisms that are non-stigmatizing and encourage, rather than discourage, that access. The Department of Health has also announced an initiative to encourage parents to teach safer sexuality education at home, but did not provide details on the need for comprehensive safer sexuality education in Philippine schools.

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“The Duterte government has a golden opportunity to remedy the legal and policy errors of previous administrations by implementing proven low-tech and low-cost interventions that can help stop in its tracks the country’s HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men,” Conde said. “Failure to do so will only ensure that the already alarming number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men will continue to rise.”

NEWSMAKERS

Family support reduces chance of school and workplace bullying

Family acceptance seems to be crucial to ensure that LGB children develop a healthy sense of self while family rejection of LGB children can negatively affect their identity and well-being.

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Having a supportive family environment makes school-age LGB children significantly less likely to be victims of bullying, according to new research by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

The researchers used data on LGB men and women with an average age of 37, and examined their experiences of when they were in school and later in life, in the workplace.

The study, published in the International Journal of Manpower, found that gay and bisexual men had been 31% less likely to be frequently bullied at school if they were from a supportive family background. For lesbian or bisexual women, the figure was 25.6%.

However, family support counted for less in the workplace, where family support was associated with a 12.5% reduction in frequent bullying towards gay or bisexual men. For lesbian or bisexual women, the reduction was only 4.6%.

Nick Drydakis, Professor in Economics at ARU, said: “If an LGB child has received support from their parents which has positively impacted on their self-esteem and self-worth, this pattern might have influence how adult LGB people prevent, avoid or deal with victimization.”

Drydakis added that “parents who have supported their children during difficult times might have taught them the appropriate attitudes and approaches to address homophobia as well as its adverse effects. If, for LGB children, family support results in building their sense of identity, self-esteem and control, we might suggest that all these psychological states during the school-age period might positively impact on psychological traits in adulthood.

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It is worth noting that, at times, hatred starts at the homes of members of the LGBTQIA community. In July, for instance, a study noted that some parents are derisive of their LGBTQIA children, and this “fosters dysregulated anger in adolescent children. Dysregulated anger is indicative of difficulties regulating emotion, which typically result in negative emotions, verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. Increases in dysregulated anger, in turn, place adolescents at greater risk for bullying and victimization, and for becoming bully-victims (bullies who also are victimized by other bullies).”

Bullying is also something worth highlighting because the damage it causes follows LGBTQIA people into adulthood. A 2018 study noted that around one in three lesbian, gay and bi individuals who are bullied at school will have similar experiences in the workplace later in life.

In the end, “family acceptance seems to be crucial to ensure that LGB children develop a healthy sense of self while family rejection of LGB children can negatively affect their identity and well-being,” Drydakis said.

The study is the first of its kind to examine whether family support during school age can have long-term positive effects on LGB people’s future workplace experiences.

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NEWSMAKERS

Intersex community holds first summit in Phl

In an effort to gather members of the intersex community in the Philippines, thereby discussing issues that are very specific to them and then bringing the same to the fore, Intersex Philippines (IP) organized its very first summit in the country.

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All photos courtesy of Jeff Cagandahan/Intersex Philippines

Making the “I” visible.

In an effort to gather members of the intersex community in the Philippines, thereby discussing issues that are very specific to them and then bringing the same to the fore, Intersex Philippines (IP) organized its very first summit in the country.

According to Jeff Balahadia Cagandahan, who helms IP, exactly because intersex people remain largely invisible, there’s a need to gather “so that they will not feel alone.”

IP – of course – started as an online support group, and this is the first actual physical gathering; and for Cagandahan, “it (has) a different impact when you meet in person.”

For the gathering, IP started at the basics – e.g. while there were lessons on Intersex 101 “because some of them don’t know anything about intersex, basta ang alam lng nila e kakaiba sila (they just knew they’re ‘different’)”; there were also lessons on self-acceptance because “we want them to accept themselves (as intersex people) first because mahirap manghingi ng pagtanggap sa iba kung sarili mismo namin e hirap kaming tanggapin (we can’t make others accept us if we, ourselves, have issues with accepting ourselves).”

As FYI: intersex is NOT identity; it is a medical condition/biological variation. As stated by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: ” Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics, and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both or neither.”

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Added the (now-defunct) Intersex Society of North America, “intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

To stress, from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.”

According to experts, between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits – the upper estimate is similar to the number of red haired people (similarly stated by the Intersex Campaign for Equality).

Incidentally, Cagandahan – who is now part of Intersex Asia, an Asia-wide support group/network/organization for intersex people – was granted by the Supreme Court (SC) to change his gender marker because of his medical condition.

On December 11, 2003, Cagandahan filed a Petition for Correction of Entries in Birth Certificate before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33 of Siniloan, Laguna. Specifically, Cagandahan asked to change his name and his sex (from female to male). Cagandahan claimed that he developed male characteristics while growing up because of a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH).

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The case reached SC, which sided with Cagandahan.

In its 2008 decision, the highest court stated:

“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual, like respondent, having reached the age of majority, with good reason thinks of his/her sex. Respondent here thinks of himself as a male and considering that his body produces high levels of male hormones (androgen) there is preponderant biological support for considering him as being male. Sexual development in cases of intersex persons makes the gender classification at birth inconclusive. It is at maturity that the gender of such persons, like respondent, is fixed…

…Respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy.To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what courses of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation. In the absence of evidence that respondent is an incompetent and in the absence of evidence to show that classifying respondent as a male will harm other members of society who are equally entitled to protection under the law, the Court affirms as valid and justified the respondents position and his personal judgment of being a male.”

This decision was written by Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; with Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Arturo D. Brion concurring.

Now, Cagandahan wants intersex people – Filipinos, in particular – to know that “God did not make mistakes in creating us. We are God’s masterpiece. Wala kang dapat ikahiya sa pagiging intersex (You have nothing to be ashamed of for being intersex).”

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Cagandahan eventually co-formed IP to support those like him; and he keeps stressing that “hindi tayo rare; marami tayo. Ito na rin siguro ung panahon para magsalita tayo (We are not rare; there are many of us. It is time for us to speak out).” For him, “naniniwala ako na kapag mas maraming nagsasalita, mas magiging madali ang hinihingi nating pagbabago (If more people like us speak, it will be easier to get the changes we want to happen).”

For intersex people, or those who want to know more about intersex condition/s and Intersex Philippines, visit Jeff Balahadia Cagandahan’s FB account; email jeffcagandahan@yahoo.com, or contact 09155159819.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Homophobia and transphobia still a problem in sport

One third of those active in sport conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity within the context of their sporting activities. More than a third of those questioned were unable to name a single organization or individual they could contact in the event of a negative experience or incidence.

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The overwhelming majority of people perceive homophobia and transphobia to be a problem in sport; with homophobic and transphobic language remaining widespread, especially in team sports. 

This is according to analysis coming out of Europe, where a Europe-wide project was done to develop strategies and training measures in the field of sport in order to counter discrimination and violence related to sexual orientation or gender identity. In the first study, an online survey was used in which more than 5,500 LGBTI from all 28 EU states were asked about their experiences in sport. In the second study, representatives of 15 sports associations, sports federations and umbrella organizations from the five project countries were interviewed about their strategies for combating homo-/transphobic discrimination in sport.

As stated, the overwhelming majority of respondents notes homophobia and transphobia to be a problem in sport. Homophobic and transphobic language was also noted to be widespread, especially in team sports. As a result, one third of those active in sport conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity within the context of their sporting activities. More than a third of those questioned were unable to name a single organization or individual they could contact in the event of a negative experience or incidence.

“Discrimination against LGBTI is a problem facing society as a whole,” says Professor Ilse Hartmann-Tews, Director of Studies at the German Sports University, “which is why each one of us should feel responsible for creating a culture of respect.”

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In the area of organized sport, the study recommends an open and proactive attitude towards questions of sexual and gender diversity on the part of all men and women active at every level of clubs, associations and sports federations. This is because, the ideal is for participation in sport at all levels to be made easier for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and intersexual people.

Homophobic and transphobic language was also noted to be widespread, especially in team sports.
PHOTO FROM PEXELS.COM

The collaboration of five European project countries lasted three years and will end on 31 December. Results were presented and discussed at various levels, including the final conference of OUTSPORT held in Budapest, an international conference on the situation of LGBTI in sport in Barcelona, the sports committee of the NRW state parliament in Düsseldorf and the Federal Network Conference of Queer Sports Clubs (BuNT) in Hamburg.

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NEWSMAKERS

Women reporting greater identity uncertainty are more at risk for hazardous drinking

Mostly lesbian and bisexual women reported the most depression, anxiety, and physical health symptoms; mostly lesbian women reported the highest levels of hazardous drinking. Among those who reported drinking, mostly lesbian women drank the most frequently and reported the most alcohol-related consequences. Mostly lesbian women reported the most identity uncertainty.

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Fact: In research, “mostly lesbian” women are typically grouped with “exclusively lesbian” women, although they are sometimes grouped with “bisexual women”. A study is now saying that this grouping is problematic since it doesn’t fully show the experience of mostly lesbian women – e.g. that they are at higher risk for hazardous drinking.

In “Health Disparities Among Exclusively Lesbian, Mostly Lesbian, and Bisexual Young Women“, written by Robin J. LewisSarah J. EhlkeAlexander T. ShappieAbby L. Braitman and Kristin E. Heron and published in LGBT Health, it was noted that health disparities have been identified between groups of diverse young sexual minority women (SMW) and heterosexual women. “This approach may generate sufficient group sizes for statistical analyses but obscures important differences. Moreover, some young women may not identify as ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ but somewhere in between.”

And so, to best understand varying experiences, researchers saw it best to examine health and sexual minority identity-specific outcomes among three groups of SMW — i.e. women who identify as “exclusively lesbian,” “mostly lesbian,” and “bisexual.”

For this study, participants were 990 young (18–30 years old) SMW (exclusively lesbian: n = 305, mostly lesbian: n = 133, bisexual: n = 552) who completed an online survey, including information about mental and physical health symptoms, hazardous drinking, and identity uncertainty. Those who reported alcohol use in the past 30 days responded to questions about their alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences.

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The study found that, controlling for demographic differences, “health outcomes varied significantly by identity. Mostly lesbian and bisexual women reported the most depression, anxiety, and physical health symptoms; mostly lesbian women reported the highest levels of hazardous drinking. Among those who reported drinking, mostly lesbian women drank the most frequently and reported the most alcohol-related consequences. Mostly lesbian women reported the most identity uncertainty.”

The researchers stressed that “describing and classifying SMW is a complex endeavor, and collapsing across identities may mask important differences among these subgroups.”

Although the common conceptualization of sexual identity includes mostly lesbian women under the bi+ umbrella, there may be important factors that lead women to adopt this sexual identity that sets them apart from their bisexual peers. This research “suggests that women who identify as mostly lesbian may be unique from their exclusively lesbian and bisexual peers by reporting greater identity uncertainty and more hazardous drinking. Moreover, if trying to subsume them within lesbian or bisexual identities, they fall into different patterns for different outcomes.”

The researchers are recommending further research to be done to improve understanding of the development of nonmonosexual identities, and researchers should be mindful that operationalization of sexual identity may affect outcomes.

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NEWSMAKERS

Income inequality fuels status anxiety and sexualization, research shows

As economic inequality continues to grow, researchers say so too will women’s preoccupation with their physical appearance, and the mental health issues that tie in with this.

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Women’s appearance enhancement is driven partly by status anxiety and income inequality, according to new research.

Researchers at the universities of Melbourne and New South Wales have examined the relationship between income inequality, status anxiety and sexualisation of women.

Using a role-playing experiment, more than 300 people from 38 countries participated in a hypothetical society online where each version matched one of the many economies of the world today.

Participants were asked to indicate how anxious they were about social status in their respective society and then chose an outfit to wear for their first night out. Options ranged from least to most revealing.

Researchers found that women assigned to economically unequal societies chose more revealing, sexy outfits for their first night, and they did so because they were anxious about their social status.

By making women worry about social climbing, research shows that economically unequal societies incentivized women to use their attractiveness to get ahead.

University of Melbourne gender relations expert Khandis Blake said results show that for some women, being the fairest of them all can be a smart strategy to climb the social and economic hierarchy.

“Although we might like to pretend in today’s environment that beauty doesn’t matter anymore, research and our day-to-day experiences say otherwise,” Blake said. “Our results favor a view of women as strategic agents, using the tools available to them to climb the social hierarchy in specific socio-economic environments. When we see women in these outfits, pouting into their phone cameras or preening over their appearance, we might think it’s just narcissism. But things are more complex. It’s really about women responding to incentives in their environment, given the state of their economy.”

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As economic inequality continues to grow, researchers say so too will women’s preoccupation with their physical appearance, and the mental health issues that tie in with this.

“Beauty is one way women can out-do others and try to maximize their lot in life, but it’s important to remember that beauty has a shelf-life and obsessing over your appearance comes with other risks and challenges,” Blake added.

It is worth noting that LGBTQIA people are just as affected by economic disparity.

LGBTQI people are more likely than their peers to live in poverty, according to a report from the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative, which shows how indicators of economic disparity including food insecurity, housing instability, low-wage earning potential and unemployment and under-employment are all heightened for LGBTQI communities.

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NEWSMAKERS

Empathy for perpetrators helps explain victim blaming in sexual harassment

It is widely assumed that a lack of empathy for female victims explains why people blame them, but a study found that empathy for the male sexual harasser was a more consistent explanation of variability in victim blame.

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Men’s empathy for other men who sexually harass women may help explain why they are more likely to blame victims, new research suggests.

The paper, published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, is entitled: “Why women are blamed for being sexually harassed: The effects of empathy for female victims and male perpetrators.”

The research, based on two studies, compared people’s reactions after reading about an incident of sexual harassment.

In the first study, men and women showed equal levels of empathy for the female victim – but men’s greater empathy for the male perpetrator explained why they were more likely than women to blame the victim.

The second study was an experiment where people were asked to focus on the man’s or the woman’s point of view before reading the same information. Both men and women who focused on the male perpetrator’s point of view showed greater empathy for him and blamed the female victim more.

The researchers, from the universities of Exeter, Queensland and Bath, say their findings highlight a dark side to empathy.

“Despite movements such as #MeToo, women still fear negative consequences of making a sexual harassment complaint,” said Dr. Renata Bongiorno, of the University of Exeter, who led the research. “Many women encounter victim-blaming attitudes when they do, especially from men. In our research, victim blaming wasn’t high overall – but consistent with past research it was higher in men than in women on average.”

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It is widely assumed that a lack of empathy for female victims explains why people blame them, “but we actually found that empathy for the male sexual harasser was a more consistent explanation of variability in victim blame,” Bongiorno added. “Media reports of sexual harassment – especially involving male perpetrators – often focus on their point of view and the potential damage to their lives for being outed as a sexual harasser.”

The findings point to the damaging consequences of that focus for female victims.

“To improve responding, everyone but especially men, should be mindful that their empathy for a male sexual harasser can increase their likelihood of blaming women for being sexually harassed,” Bongiorno said. “And victim blame continues to make it very difficult for women who are sexually harassed to come forward and get a fair hearing when they do.”

This is also an issue in the LGBTQIA community.

In June, for instance, a study found that around seven out of 10 LGBT workers experienced at least one type of sexual harassment at work and almost one in eight LGBT women reported being seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work. But this is a hidden problem with two thirds of those who were harassed not reporting it.

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