Effects on Human rights of Key Populations and LGBTQI community
All countries impacted by COVID-19 have put in place containment measures to varying degrees. As discussed in the first ‘COVID effect’ series, there is a real concern that in the process of implementing preventive measures to respond to COVID-19, communities’ freedom of expression, among others, can be affected. In response to this concern APCOM carried out a survey of CSOs from nine countries in the Asia Pacific region to further understand any impacts of COVID-19 on the human rights of KPs and the LGBTQI community. This third report in the second COVID effect series discusses the responses from the survey carried out between June and August 2020.
Vulnerable populations at risk of, or living with HIV, already faced significant barriers to health and wellbeing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These obstacles have been further exacerbated by COVID-19.
Many of the most vulnerable members of society, including, though not limited to, communities with diverse SOGIESC, work in the informal and entertainment sector. Consequently, a number of restrictive measures and lockdowns have been imposed in an effort to both contain and combat the SARS-CoV2 virus. This has led to many individuals not being able to earn an income anymore which, in turn, has resulted in difficulties for many in accessing essential items such as food, shelter, water and utilities. As a result, many now have to rely on government services and community-based organisations for support.
Furthermore, restrictive measures have required a significant reduction in service provision to ensure appropriate physical distancing and, in some cases, CSO services were suspended with clients being asked to attend clinics at hospitals. This led to a disruption in access to ARV and HIV testing (eg. Japan, Singapore). Where CSO-led HIV services were suspended (e.g. Japan) this was very short-term as HIV treatment and testing are recognised as being essential services.
A significant issue in most countries surveyed was ARV and HIV testing for ‘foreigners’, both those who are foreigners in the countries surveyed and for those whose nationals are resident elsewhere and unable to get back to their home country. For these individuals the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the poor access to both health and welfare services for non-nationals in many countries worldwide.
Some countries reported an increased risk of gender-based violence. CSOs found that the greatest worries for their communities were related to mental health and stigma and discrimination. Many of their clients have lost their jobs and have no income. This already precarious situation further exacerbated because of the lockdown measures that led to more time being spent at home in confined spaces and an increase in domestic abuse inflicted both by their families or their partners (e.g. Sri Lanka, Myanmar) who they may have gotten more economically dependent on.
In Fiji and Taiwan CSOs reported an increase in perceived discrimination by the communities. In Fiji the first case identified was a member of the LGBTIQ community. This led to a very challenging period where the LGBTIQ community felt that the wider public were implicating them for the outbreak in their country.
Concerns have also been voiced by some communities about fears of their relationship status not being recognised if their same sex partner were to be admitted to hospital for COVID-19 (e.g. Japan) with their greatest worry being that they would not have access to information nor have any input to treatment and care.
Government activities, measures and efforts have since the start of the year been primarily focussed towards containment of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is real concern regarding the impact that this will have going forward on human rights work and advocacy, both at regional and country level as energies are diverted to COVID-19. This includes issues such as recognition of same sex relationships and marriage in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as issues surrounding adoption and artificial reproduction; gender equity education and transgender rights and healthcare.