Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Local Civil Society Groups Raise Discrimination with OAS Human Rights Body

A delegation of four organizations representing the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) presented on “Discrimination in the enjoyment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Guyana” at a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at its 154th session of hearings in Washington, DC, last Friday, March 20, 2015. The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. The Commissioners present at the hearing were Prof. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Chair of the Commission, James Cavallaro, Rapporteur for Guyana, and Felipe Gonzalez.
The petitioners representing the GEF were the Sisterhood of Support, Services and Sustainability (S4) Foundation, Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). The GEF is a network of local civil society groups working for equal rights in Guyana.
Petitioners representing the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF):, SASOD’s Joel Simpson, DAG’s Sabine McIntosh, GOIP’s Colin Klautky, S4’s Imarah Radix and SASOD’s Schemel Patrick 
The State was represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and Ambassador to the United States and the Organisation of American States (OAS), Bayney Karran.
The main topics addressed by the Guyanese civil society included gender inequality and violence and its impact on the socio-economic life of women and girls, trafficking in persons and cultural genocide, the right to language and education for deaf persons and the discrimination and the right to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Guyana.
Imarah Radix, Executive Director of the S4 Foundation fervently reported that “women and girls continue to suffer from maternity deaths, teenage pregnancy, trafficking in persons, rape, crime and violence, sexual harassment in the workplace and discrimination based on HIV status and gender in the workplace.” She added that these issues disproportionally affect how women and girls access their economic, cultural and social rights. Radix noted that the S4 Foundation has on record reports of women not knowing their rights, numerous incidences of domestic violence, sexual abuse by the police, stigma and discrimination from police and situations of trafficking of young girls. She called on the State to develop specialized on-going procedural and sensitivity training for police for dealing with survivors, to craft a programme to hire and train counsellors in ministries and in schools that will protect the confidentially of children and women, and to strengthen both the Child Care Act and the National Child Care and Protection policy to address LGBT children whose needs are not being met.
Colin Klautky, Chief of GOIP, articulated that one issue of grave concern to his organisation and by extension indigenous peoples of Guyana is the trafficking of indigenous girls and women, particularly between the ages of 15 to 30. “One indigenous girl trafficked is one too much,” said Klautky. His first recommendation to the State is to provide resources needed to protect our young girls and women, including in the form of self-defence training.  Additionally, indigenous Guyanese are at the receiving end of cultural genocide such as the loss of traditional languages. Languages such as Carib, Warao and Lokono are threatened with extinction. He recommended that the State provide resources to save these languages and also to add them to the school curriculum in their respective indigenous communities. He also called for the strengthening of the Indigenous Peoples Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission to deal effectively with the issues of ethnic discrimination affecting the indigenous community. Klautky informed that indigenous Guyanese experience low self-esteem because of constant ethnic abuse from other ethnic groups. This he noted is an assault on a people’s human dignity.
“The right to language is inalienable as such sign language, the first language of the deaf, is their inalienable right,” expressed Sabine McIntosh, Director of DAG in her presentation to the Commission.  She noted that Guyana suffers from a severe lack of data regarding the incidence of deafness in Guyana; this setback hinders the development of the deaf community.  In January 2015, McIntosh visited Region 9, whilst there neither the Regional Health Officer nor the Regional Education Officer of that Region had knowledge or records of deaf children, youth or adults in their Region. Currently, deaf children are educated in public ‘special needs’ schools, which they share with  children with mental disabilities, except for the Tuschen Deaf Academy, a small but budding deaf-only school established by DAG, two years ago. DAG recommends that the State provide schools with the special resources that would be needed to meet their students’ special needs - which, for the deaf, would include first and foremost the teaching in and the teaching of sign language. Important as well is the need for an official sign language programme for teachers of the deaf, or for deaf persons to be trained as teachers for their peers. Zooming in on the economic aspect, the above is a severe hindrance in deaf youth’ efforts to access vocational training and employment; and this is an ongoing and painful issue for DAG, as they seek to respond to the many requests for help in this area from deaf persons all across Guyana.
Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD, opened his presentation by stating that “it is an undisputable fact that the State of Guyana discriminates against LGBT people in law and policy.” He raised the issues of criminialising of same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing and the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997. He noted reported incidences of homophobic and transphobic discrimination as a result of these laws and the State failing to offer any redress. Conversely, social stigma against homosexuality is extremely strong within the Guyanese society. Discriminatory laws and societal stigma have a profound impact on economic social and cultural rights of LGBT Guyanese. “Anti-LGBT discrimination is rampant in the labour market, in both the public and private sectors,” he said. Simpson noted that, “the State has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all Guyanese. The State violates human rights when it has discriminatory laws on the books and actively enforces them.”
In responding to civil society, Minister Rodrigues-Birkett noted the State’s progress in a number of issues, most notably were sensitization campaigns to reduce domestic violence, current operational measures to tackle human trafficking in indigenous communities, procedures in place to preserve Amerindian languages and the creation of a special select committee in the previous parliament to address human rights issues, including LGBT issues.
 Minister Rodrigues-Birkett responding on behalf of the State
 However, she acknowledged that further work needs to be done to protect the rights of marginalized Guyanese. As such, she expressed her willingness and enthusiasm to further engage, collaborate and partner with the petitioning organisations to effectively address the issues raised at the thematic hearing.
Prof. Belle Antoine shared how St. Lucia recently included sexual orientation as grounds for protection in its equal opportunities legislation as part of their labour laws, and encouraged Guyana to follow this good practice. Commissioner Rapporteur for Guyana, James Cavallaro, encouraged more collaboration between the State and civil society and offered the assistance of his office to visit Guyana with a team of specialist lawyers from IACHR to provide technical support in these areas.

 Commissioners Felipe Gonzalez, Prof. Rose-Marie Bell Antoine and James Cavallaro
 Simpson responded on behalf of the petitioners to a comment made by Minister Rodrigues-Birkett in which he reiterated  former Commissioner Dinah Shelton’s words at a previous hearing in 2013 that “one cannot put human rights to a vote,” in an effort to remind the State that it is responsible for taking leadership on human rights issues ahead of public opinion.
The GEF’s participation at the IACHR thematic hearing was funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana through a grant to the London-based Equal Rights Trust, and SASOD.

YouTube Video of Thematic Hearing: https://youtu.be/w5jHFEebgxg

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SASOD receives Red Ribbon Award Cheque and Debriefs on Melbourne AIDS Conference

On Thursday, January 22, 2015, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in collaboration with the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) hosted a debriefing session on the 20th International AIDS Conference and received the cheque for winning the Red Ribbon Award in the category of Human Rights and Advocacy at Moray House in Georgetown.

The session, chaired by SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator Chelauna Providence, provided a platform for representatives from the national delegation who attended the conference to present and share how they are implementing the lessons learnt from the conference, discuss their progress with other key stakeholders, including the media, and allow an opportunity for questions and feedback from stakeholders.

The panel discussion was moderated by SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, and featured four panelists who formed part of the national delegation attending the conference in Melbourne, Australia last July: Royston Savory, Prevention Officer at Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness (FACT) in Corriverton, Berbice; Antonio Paul, Transgender Community Advocate from Region 3; Dr. Ruth Ramos, Director of the National Care and Treatment Centre, Ministry of Health; and Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Ministry of Health.

 Panelists (l-r) - Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, Dr. Ruth Ramos, Antonio Paul and Royston Savory 
Antonio Paul shared that the Conference gave him a broader perspective on the challenges facing transgender communities. Even in countries where laws protect transgender individuals they are still faced with a plethora of issues. He reiterated the importance of advocacy to put a spotlight on these often-forgotten groups. “It is essential that minority groups have a voice, one that is heard and in a positive way; a voice that consistently demands rights,” Paul stated to nods from other stakeholders in attendance.

Dr. Singh-Anthony in her presentation shared that the International AIDS Conference renews hope and optimism that an end to AIDS is possible. “It provides an opportunity for learning about key developments and for sharing important progress,” she said. Dr. Singh-Anthony found the conference insightful as it made her aware that more often than not in our care and treatment programmes, children and young people are being left behind. “Greater emphasis is being placed in the pediatric and adolescent programmes to include and ensure the adequate and appropriate management of children who are eligible for anti-retroviral treatment. The National AIDSProgramme Secretariat (NAPS) also intends to factor in the dynamics of working with adolescents to ensure better services and better quality of life,” she explained. Dr. Singh-Anthony noted that NAPS will continue to think of innovative ways of reaching key populations.She expressed particular gratitude for the information that is coming forward about transgender persons as this will help NAPS to understand and better serve this long-neglected and stigmatized minority group.

Dr. Ramos shared that the ultimate goal of the National Care and Treatment Centre is to target and test everyone. She noted that they are also working assiduously on not just decreasing, but eliminating, mother- to-child transmission. Dr. Ramos highlighted one of the greatest challenges that the Centre faces is adherence to medication and keeping patients on care. As we move forward, Dr. Ramos encouraged everyone to be more aggressive, more enthusiastic and to place more emphasis on tackling the issue daily.

The panel discussion was followed by questions from the gathering. Dr. Yoran Grant – Greene, Country Director of the US Centre for Disease Control in Guyana asked the panelists to pinpoint, if any, any peer-to-peer strategies or methods for working and reaching key populations discussed at the conference. SASOD’s Simpson mentioned the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a platform for interventions to reach key populations with HIV prevention information. He also called on the donor community to support more of these kinds of innovative initiatives that would enable community groups to use ICT in their work. FACT’s Savory also noted the use of social networking in the Berbice area.

UNAIDS Country Director, Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, delivered special remarks and presented SASOD with a cheque of US$ 10,000 for winning the Red Ribbon Award.  Dr. Campos, noted that “in a world where, as we all know, LGBT communities are castigated as third-class citizens, having their humanity and dignity frequently denied, and their rights not respected, is an honor to present this prize given to SASOD. It is more than recognition of its excellent work; it is a symbolic prize to all LGBT communities, not only in Guyana but in the whole Caribbean region and a stimulus to them to pursue in their quest for a better world for all; and, specifically, for a world without AIDS.” On behalf of the Red Ribbon Award programme and UNAIDS, he thanked and congratulated SASOD for its exemplary work. He also exerted all LGBT communities to keep the fire burning and be inspired towards a world free of the HIV epidemic.

Mr. Joel Simpson receiving the Red Ribbon Award Prize Money for Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, UNAIDS Country Director

The prize money from the Red Ribbon Award will go towards SASOD’s LGBT Community Centre Fund. The multi-purpose LGBT Community Centre will serve as the secretariat for SASOD, provide office space for other LGBT groups and provide temporary housing for LGBT youths facing homelessness and other services LGBT Guyanese. The public was encouraged to donate to SASOD’s LGBT Community Centre Fund either at its Charlotte Street office or directly through Scotiabank Account Number 10024548.

To see photos from this event click here

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Red Ribbon Awards Acceptance Speech: Advocacy and Human Rights

His Excellency the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Minister of Health of Indonesia, Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, Vice-Minister of Health Surveillance of Brazil, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Former Member of Parliament of Paupa New Guinea, Dame Carol Kidu, UNAIDS Deputy Director, Jan Beagle, GNP + Executive Director, Dame Suzette Moses-Burton, PANCAP Director, Dereck Springer, National AIDS Programme Scretariat Programme Manager, Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, international media, fellow awardees, human rights and AIDS researchers, activists, students, service providers, distinguished delegates; good afternoon to you all. And thank you for joining us at this special session  for the presentation of the 2014 Red Ribbon Awards at the 20th International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. I am Joel Simpson, speaking on behalf of the two award-winning community-based ogranisations from Indonesia and Guyana.
While we are happy to be here to accept this excellence award for our work, we  remember and pay tribute to our peers and colleagues who lost their lives traveling here on Flight MH 17. May their souls rest in peace, and their work not be in vain.
On behalf of the Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Red Ribbon Awards committee, programme and funders for honouring our work with this excellence award in HIV advocacy and human rights. In Indonesia and Guyana, PKNI and SASOD, represent and work with marginalised groups who are treated like outcasts because they use drugs, sell sex and have diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Our communities are castigated as third-class citizens; their humanity and dignity is denied, and their rights are not respected. It is often difficult in this sector which is obsessed with data, numbers, monitoring and evaluation, and return on investment to make the business case for investing in human rights and advocacy programmes for key populations. But this Red Ribbon Award category for advocacy and human rights recognizes that we are “stepping up the pace” by putting pressure on state and non-state actors alike to end criminalization, prohibition and discrimination which create barriers to access for our communities. If we are to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, then we must protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our societies. We know 'getting to zero' is only possible if there is zero discrimination, zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths. But we cannot 'get to zero' if donors do not invest in community-based organisations who represent and work with key populations to advocate and improve human rights protections for these disadvantaged groups. Human rights is prevention. Human rights  is treatment. Human rights is care and support. Invest in human rights now!
And today as we celebrate our work with this most prestigious Red Ribbon Award, we are reminded that the struggles for human rights, dignity, equality and justice are far from over. Yesterday Sunday, July 20, two transgender youth, Jada and Tyra, were brutally murdered in Guyana's capital city, Georgetown. Both Chelauna and I know Jada and Tyra personally as vibrant and talented young advocates in the Guyanese lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender  (LGBT) movement. Our work is not complete until every human being in our countries – every drug user, every sex worker, every LGBT person – can live their lives freely and openly without fear, hatred or stigma. We dedicate SASOD's Red Ribbon Award  to the loving memories of Jada, Tyra and countless other LGBT Guyanese whose lives have been snuffed out, due to bigotry and prejudice in our beautiful country.
Jada and Tyra, may your souls rest in peace. Your bravery will not be in vain.
Thank you.
Joel Earl Simpson
SASOD – Guyana
Red Ribbon Awards Special Session
XX International AIDS Conference
Melbourne, Australia
July 21, 2014


The Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA) and its partners - Groundation Grenada, Audiovisual Society of Dominica, ChantiMedia and SASOD Guyana – is set to launch Caribbean Film Project, an initiative which aims to showcase the talent of unknown and emerging writers in the Caribbean and Diaspora.
Through Caribbean Film Project, CaFA and its partners will not only tackle storytelling in films coming out of the Caribbean, but will provide an opportunity for Diaspora filmmakers to have their work included in a Caribbean film compilation. The initiative will focus on assisting in the production of films in countries which have mostly been absent from the current Caribbean filmmaking renaissance – Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, and St. Kitts & Nevis, as well as Caribbean filmmakers in the Diaspora.
Caribbean Film Project will be run as a script competition open for entries from January – February 2015.  The winner from each country will be paired with a coach who will work with the writer to make their script production-ready.  With the help of each producing partner, the films will then be produced. CaFA plans to raise the funds needed for the project through sponsorship, fundraisers and crowd-funding.
This focus on writing is long overdue, according to CaFA’s Co-Founder, Romola Lucas, who has led the effort to organize this new project.  She says, “Spurred by the availability and increasing affordability of filmmaking equipment, the Caribbean is currently experiencing a surge in filmmaking.  More and more people, who may never have considered filmmaking an option are making films encouraged by new opportunities to have their work screened at the growing number of Caribbean film festivals.  Many of the films are excellent – well-written, professionally produced, and visually appealing.  However, there are many others which suffer from technical issues and incomplete storytelling.”
“From our perspective, well-written stories underpin every sustainable film movement, and in order for Caribbean storytellers to be counted among the best in the world, specific focus and attention must be given to the development of great writers,” Lucas continues. 
The Film Project competition is open to writers/filmmakers who are residents/nationals of Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and to those of Caribbean descent/heritage living in the Diaspora and writing Caribbean stories.  Submissions open on Friday, January 2, 2015 and close Friday, February, 28, 2015.  To learn more about the Project and submit a script, visitwww.caribbeanfilm.org or email us at submissions@cafafilmproject.org.

 For further information, please contact:

Chantal Miller – ChantiMedia

Jessica Canham – Audiovisual Association of Dominica

Joel Simpson – SASOD Guyana

Malaika Brooks – Groundation Grenada

Romola Lucas – CaFA

About CaFA
Established in 2012 in Brooklyn, NY, The Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA), is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and support of Caribbean filmmaking and filmmakers, in the Region and the Diaspora.  CaFA’s work is focused on promoting and sharing the art of storytelling through film from the unique perspective of the Caribbean.
ChantiMedia was born out of a passion for the Caribbean’s unparalleled and vibrant creative expression. Founded in 2012 by Chantal Miller (presenter and voice over artist) as a primarily digital platform to share and promote the artistic diversity of the region, ChantiMedia has now evolved into a multi-faceted creative hub. Based between the beautiful island of Nevis and the cultural melting pot of London (UK) the company now focuses on production (film and television), the curating of exhibitions and film festivals, the facilitating of creative workshops and fostering creative collaborations throughout the Diaspora.
Groundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Its mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. The organization pursues its mission online, through its website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.
SASOD is dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean. The organization has worked tirelessly to repeal discriminatory Guyanese laws, change local attitudes about the LGBT community, and end discrimination in the government, workplace, and community.  The organization has been hosting, for the past 10 years, the only LGBT film festival in the Caribbean – bringing many Caribbean LGBT films to home audiences.
AAD’s mission is to promote and support the growth of professionals and businesses in Dominica’s audiovisual sector.  Membership in the Association is open to both individuals and to businesses. Being a member of the Audiovisual Association of Dominica enables individual producers and companies to benefit from activities and initiatives designed to improve the business climate for audiovisual professionals, and to support professional development.  The Association provides training in production, and scriptwriting, it maintains a data base of industry professionals, provides networking opportunities for members, creates local and regional partnerships and advocates for a regulatory environment to promote and support the growth of the sector.