Sat. Feb 16th, 2019

Being a trans woman in a country where her life expectancy is 33 years | Society

Being a trans woman in a country where her life expectancy is 33 years | Society



Bianka Gabriela Rodríguez, a 25-year-old Salvadoran transsexual and activist, maintains a kind tone during the interview that accompanies her regularly with a smile. The gesture only darkens in the end, before the question of how it looks optimistic after having remembered a childhood that had beaten many, the atrocious murders of two comrades fighting for the rights of the LGTBi collective, a wide catalog of daily violence and discriminations and the chilling fact that the life expectancy of trans women in El Salvador is 33 years, 40 less than for the general population of the country, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. "I always say that although there is high tide in the end it has to go down, but it is sad that many trans women have had to die to get the rights that we have now, the few," he replies.

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The conversation takes place on the first Wednesday of February at the old train station in the Benalúa district, in Alicante, the headquarters of Mediterranean House, an institution promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to which Rodríguez has been invited to participate along with 18 other Latin American women, from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, as well as from Spain, in a debate on violence against women in conflict zones and female leadership in the construction of peace. A day organized by the Valencian Government with the collaboration of the Women's Foundation for Africa and the host entity.

El Salvador forms, with Guatemala and Honduras, the northern Central American triangle, the most dangerous region in Latin America for LGBT people, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The main threat, says Rodríguez, president of the Communicando y Capacitando Mujeres Trans (Comcavis Trans) association, is the maras - the highly organized youth gangs that control large areas of the territory - and what she describes as "extermination groups" linked to the extreme right. "Many trans women are pushed into sex work because they have not been able to study or have access to formal jobs. In the street, the gangs besiege them, beat them, abuse them and have to pay them a fee to let them work in the stables ". The police, he adds, normally constitute another source of extortion and the level of clarification of the crimes to which they are subjected is negligible: "Since 2015, 40 have been registered. murders of trans women who remain in impunity"

Among the unresolved homicides is also that of activist Tania Vásquez, who disappeared after leaving a meeting of the association headed by Bianka Rodríguez six years ago. Vásquez was found the next day in a park in San Salvador wrapped in black plastic and tied hand and foot. She had been tortured and raped, her genitals cut off and placed at breast height. In May 2015, another LGTBi activist, Francela Méndez, a member of the Salvadoran Human Rights Network, was beaten to death in the Salvadoran municipality of Sonsonate. The author or the perpetrators of the crime cut his hair with a machete.

Discrimination frequently persecutes these women after death. Rodríguez explains that Tania Vásquez's family did not want to recognize the body or take charge of the funeral, and it was her Comcavis Trans compañeras who bought the coffin. "There are many cases of murders in which the family does not want to be held responsible. And if they do, they usually bury them with the male gender; they cut their hair, they do not make them up, they dress them in men's clothes ".

Orphan as a father, Rodriguez's mother repressed her identity as a child by confining her days in a room. "School was the only way of freedom that I had. When I turned 15, like all girls, I started using lip gloss and a little dust. A teacher sent for her and my mother told me in front of my whole school that she could not accept me because she had had a child, not a girl, and that for her I was an aberration. " Shortly after, Rodriguez ran away from home. He found work in a bakery, where they exploited it and slept on sacks of flour and sugar. At 18, her maternal grandmother welcomed her, encouraged her to resume her studies and allowed her to develop as a woman.

To explain the institutional discrimination suffered by trans women in El Salvador, Rodríguez opens his purse and takes out his passport, in which a masculine name appears next to his photo. "Every time I go to the migration address to leave the country, when they see it, the agents rub shoulders, make fun of each other. And that, besides being uncomfortable, is a form of violence. The same goes for the Unique Identity Document. We have many problems to access jobs because we do not have the right to have our name and our identity appear on it. "

The prejudice that assumes that all trans women have HIV and the additional discrimination suffered by people carrying the virus also blocks them from medical consultations and health care, says Rodríguez. "Our organization has had to intervene with the health institutions because there are trans women who come to the centers stoned, stabbed or with bullet wounds and are not treated because the staff refuses to touch them."

Two murdered a day

Trans women are a particularly vulnerable group in the northern triangle of Central America, where the general level of violence is very high and that of all women suffers from vertigo. In Guatemala, a country of 17 million inhabitants, nearly 700 women are murdered every year, almost two a day, says Mercedes Hernández, who has studied femicide in the region.

President of the Women Association of Guatemala and invited to the meeting held at Casa Mediterráneo, in Alicante, Hernández affirms that among maras and other criminal groups formed by men, a culture predominates in which killing and raping women allows them to accredit merits among their peers. "Within the political function that violence has," he continues, "the plundering of the body and life of women is a way to demonstrate who has more capacity for lethality, cruelty, revenge and therefore power."

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