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Behind Bars: Navigating Intersectionality and Challenges Faced by Women of Diverse SOGIE in Philippine Jail Facilities by Maricel Aguilar and Reann Mantilla

Behind Bars: Navigating Intersectionality and Challenges Faced by Women of Diverse SOGIE in Philippine Jail Facilities

by Maricel Aguilar and Reann Mantilla

Crucial to the pursuit of women’s empowerment and gender equality is the concept of intersectionality. Coined by Black feminist legal theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of race, class, sex, gender, and other identity markers. It underscores that individuals may have overlapping and intersecting experiences of discrimination based on their identity.

In the course of their lifetime, Filipino women experience various forms of gender biases and abuse, both in the private and public spheres. However, certain groups of women experience more severe forms of discrimination – such as lesbians, bisexuals, and transmen (LBT) persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).

Twenty (20) women of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) were invited to a discussion with the GOJUST II project team to learn about their experiences as PDLs. Most of the women who participated were under custody due to violations under Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, with an average of four years in custody. A majority also identified as lesbians.

Living arrangements for cis-gender women and women of diverse SOGIE vary among facilities. In some, LBTs are segregated from cis-gender women, with transmen further segregated in a separate building within the LBT complex.

In contrast, other facilities house them together. Discussions revealed that the segregation of transmen has both positive and negative impacts. On the one hand, it allows them to interact with peers and discuss personal matters freely. However, some instances suggest that they may be perceived as troublemakers by their cis-gender counterparts. Conversely, facilities where LBTs live alongside cis-gender women reported no harassment or discrimination.

Jail communities, led by their appointed leaders, aim to maintain harmony and order among PDLs, providing advice and psychosocial support. Some facilities have agreements on behavior, such as separate bathing arrangements for cis-gender women and LBTs. Age is also considered, with older individuals not sharing sleeping bunks with younger PDLs to prevent sexual harassment. This community created by the LBT PDLs themselves could be a potential for supporting their rehabilitation and preparation for reintegration. Building the capacities of PDL leaders is crucial as they serve as PDL support while they are in detention.

While health services, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, are provided, their availability depends on facility resources or other organizations conducting jail outreach programs.

Transmen express discomfort accessing SRH services, finding pap smears and internal examinations intrusive. Confidential and private screenings with an OB-GYN were suggested as a solution. Some lesbians believe they need not undergo screenings due to their lack of sexual experience with men. Transmen, while dependable for logistical tasks (i.e., hauling heavy stuff or doing construction work within the facility), fear the potential health implications of heavy workloads.

Stress within and outside jail affects the emotional and mental well-being of respondents, with instances of self-harm reported. Limited family visits due to distance and financial challenges contribute to the participants’ emotional struggles. PDLs expressed gratitude for the e-dalaw service, which enabled communication with their loved ones and family members. Peer support is helpful, but there is a recognized need for mental health professionals or social workers to provide additional support.

Relationships pose challenges within jail facilities. Some prohibit relationships with LBTs. In contrast, others allow them under specific conditions (e.g., they are not permitted to be within the same building as their partner, allowed to see their partner during everyday activities (such as exercise), communicate verbally (from a distance), and through an exchange of notebooks with love letters). LBTs cite relationships as a source of support, hope, and inspiration during incarceration.

Like all other PDLs, LBTs worry about their reintegration into society. Some fear the lack of opportunities and stigma upon release, while others express concerns about resuming their work or professions. A participant from the medical profession fears her inability to practice after serving her sentence.

These varied issues faced by lesbians, bisexuals, and transmen (LBT) persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) depict that women, let alone women in jails, are not homogenous. The diversity of their experiences deserves a space for discussion among policy and decision-makers in jail management and corrections. Some areas for reflection would understand gender dynamics in segregated and mixed living arrangements for LBT and cis-gender women; building the potentials of PDL leaders in strengthening rehabilitation and preparing for release and reintegration of PDLs; providing regular health services, especially sexual and reproductive health, and mental health to female PDLs and setting-up private screening space for such; conducting regular sessions on LBT rights and SOGIE to all PDLs and jail personnel to mitigate, if not eliminate, discrimination in jails, and providing livelihood or employment packages alongside practical skills training in preparation for release and reintegration.

The authors thank the Davao City Female Dorm Warden, Jail Chief Inspector Rovie Anne Alcantara, Davao City Anti-Drug Abuse Council Technical Officer Ronaldo Rivera, and the Zamboanga City Jail Male Dormitory Warden, Jail Supt. Xavier Solda and Female Dormitory Warden JSINSP Sitti Benzone A. Abdulahab for their support and assistance.


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