New Dehli, India – In a national event organized by Pehchan, Hijras highlight discrimination and demand equality for their community.

Stakeholders from government, media, policy bodies, the transgender and hijra community, and civil society came together on June 2nd for the first National Hijra Habba. The event was organized by Pehchan, a five-year program that strengthens and builds the capacity of 200 community-based organizations in 17 states to advance HIV prevention. The national consultation discussed efforts to achieve equality for transgenders and hijras and drew attention to the significant challenges faced by these communities.

Addressing the event, Gauri Sawant, General Secretary, Transgender and Hijra Welfare Board, Maharashtra, said, “In India, cases of violence go unreported as the present social and legal environment is oppressive towards transgender persons and hijras. Due to their different gender identity, they are denied opportunities to earn a living, to study, and to access health services. Even changing their names and sex in official documents is not easy.”

Pehchan collaborates with India’s National AIDS Control Program and would reach 453,750 MSM (males who have sex with males), transgenders and hijras by 2015 and is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

Held at Vishwa Yuvak Kendra in New Delhi, the Hijra Habba included speeches, experience sharing and community performances by leaders from transgender and hijra community. In-depth discussions were held on issues including social entitlements, legal status, violence, economic vulnerabilities, and feminization.

At the heart of the event was the development of an action plan for advocacy for the next three years on priority issues for these communities. Ms. Aradhana Johri, Additional Secretary, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), affirmed the importance of these populations to the national HIV prevention strategy and acknowledged the need for continued effort to control the epidemic among transgenders and hijras.

According to James Robertson, Country Director, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, “India has been a global leader in defining an effective HIV prevention response for transgenders and hijras. The world has much to learn from this example. While progress has been made, the journey towards equality for transgenders and hijras is not yet over.”

The India HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance India) is a partnership that brings together organizations and communities to support a sustained response to HIV in India. Complementing the national program in India, it works through capacity building, knowledge sharing, technical support and advocacy. Through a network of partners, Alliance India supports the delivery of community-based HIV programs to key groups affected by the epidemic.