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Exploring UCL’s collaborations with Canada

Sian EGardiner29 January 2018

This month saw UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur host a University of Toronto (UofT) delegation at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.

UofT President Professor Meric Gertler joined a roundtable where representatives from both universities discussed the joint funding projects launched in November 2017, along with the potential for future health science collaborations.

But how else is UCL collaborating with the University of Toronto – and Canada more widely?

Here, we take a look at the existing connections.

UofT emerges as top research partner

Looking at data for the papers published in the past five years with less than five authors (according to InCites), along with how many times they’ve been cited, the University of Toronto is UCL’s closest collaborator, by a clear margin.

UCL’s next highest collaborator in the country is University of British Colombia, followed by McGill University.

High volume of medical research collaboration

Taking a more in-depth look at the collaborations between UCL and UofT reveals that life and medical science is by far the most common area of shared research.

For example, UCL and UofT collaborated on 17 papers on clinical neurology, 15 on neurosciences, 13 on paediatrics and nine on surgery.

UofT students at UCL

The figures for 2016/17 suggest that Canadians are most commonly heading to UCL for post graduate study, and the University of Toronto is no exception. In the graph below, you can see the distribution of UofT students across UCL faculties.

Subjects that UofT undergrads study at UCL

The table below shows the number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL. It demonstrates a high interest in social and historical sciences (22% of applications), followed by built environment (20%) and engineering (19%).

 

Number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL

Canadian students in the UK

Taking a wider view and looking at the enrolment figures from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 across all UK universities, it’s clear that the most popular subject for Canadian students choosing to study in the UK is law, followed by social studies and medicine – a contrast to the popular subjects at UCL previously highlighted.

Canadian subject choices across the UK

Contrary to the UK as a whole, for instance, law makes up just 6% of Canadian students’ subject choices at UCL.

 Steady growth in students from Canada

Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities

Finally, looking at the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities, it’s clear that while other universities within the group have seen a decline in Canadian applications, there has been a steady increase in students coming from Canada to UCL in recent years – a trend that we hope will continue for many years to come.

Explore the Global Engagement Office (GEO)’s interactive dashboard to see more of UCL’s collaborations across the world.

For more information on UCL’s activity in North America, visit the GEO web pages.

Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma recognised for Japan-UK academic co-operation

Sian EGardiner26 January 2018

Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma and Japan AmbassadorUCL’s Japan ambassador Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma has been awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation for his contribution to Japan-UK academic and educational relations.

Earlier this month, Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka presented Ohnuma, Professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology, with the award at a ceremony at the Embassy of Japan in London.

In addition to his work as Director of the PhD programme of the Sensory System, Technology and Therapies, Professor Ohnuma has worked over many years to strengthen UCL’s ties with Japan.

Historic links

Professor Ohnuma’s collaborative work includes the organisation of numerous important events. In 2013, he helped to organise celebrations involving various Japanese organisations to mark the 150th anniversary of UK-Japan academic collaboration, when five Japanese samurai – known as the ‘Choshu Five’ – first came to study at UCL.

Speaking after receiving his award, Professor Ohnuma said, “UCL has an amazing history with Japan, which includes the Choshu-Five and Satsuma-19.

“But in my role as UCL’s Japan ambassador and through active interaction with Japanese universities, high schools, and industries, I want to increase the status of UCL in Japan, improving recognition and the number of Japanese students studying here.”

Improving UK-Japan relations

In 2014, Ohnuma played an important part in the ‘Japan-UK Universities Conference for Collaboration in Research and Education,’ co-hosted by UCL and the Embassy of Japan in the UK.

Attended by 14 Japanese universities, 16 UK universities and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, the conference encouraged further collaboration for not only UCL but many universities in both the UK and Japan.

A champion of future talent, Professor Ohnuma has also worked to encourage mutual understanding between young people in Japan and the UK. In 2015, he established the UCL-Japan Youth Challenge programme to promote interaction between students in both countries.

Hosted by many organisations in the UK, it has since been held annually, with around 100 students from both countries involved.

Contributions to Fukushima

Professor Ohnuma has also made significant contributions to his home prefecture, Fukushima, which was badly affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. On top of supporting reconstruction efforts in the area, he played a key role in arranging a Memorandum of Understanding between UCL and the Fukushima prefectural government, and supported UCL students’ recent visit to the region.

Of the visit he said, “This month I visited Fukushima – where the East Japan Disaster inflicted huge damage six years ago – with 10 UCL and UCL Academy students, to understand the current status of Fukushima and encourage young generations in the area.”

At last week’s ceremony, Ambassador Tsuruoka congratulated Professor Ohnuma on his significant contribution to UK-Japan relations. Commenting on his award, Ohnuma said, “It is a great honour for me to receive this award from the Japanese Government.”

UCL Qatar’s collaborations shed fresh light on Doha’s rich architectural heritage

Sian EGardiner18 December 2017

Earlier this month, UCL Qatar joined forces with various partner organisations in a series of public events exploring the city of Doha’s architectural history.

Most notably, the British Council Qatar’s fourth annual British Festival included a panel discussion and exhibition brought to the festival thanks to the ongoing partnership between UCL Qatar and Qatar University’s College of Engineering.

‘The Streets of Doha’ panel featured the winners of the Unlimited Doha Design Prize (Deena Terawi, Gizem Kahraman, Ming Teong, Can Askoy and Alex Scott-Whitby) along with special guest speakers including Ibrahim Mohamed, CEO & Chief Architect of Jaidah Group and Dr Fodil Fadli, Head of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Qatar University.

An educational partnership with the British Council

The panel’s wide-ranging discussion covered the distinctive character of Doha’s architecture, the transformation of the city’s built environment and its impact on architectural identity, everyday life and public space.

Professor Rob Carter, Professorial Research Fellow and Research Lead at UCL Qatar, was in the 120-strong audience to hear the discussions take place. Speaking about the event he said, “UCL Qatar is honoured to participate in this year’s British Festival as the British Council educational partners.

“We are proud to be the first British institution in Qatar to offer high quality UK Education, and of the outstanding outcomes we’ve achieved in developing research and capacity-building in cultural heritage in this country. I’m particularly delighted to be involved in this event and exploration of Qatar’s rich urban heritage, which is often underestimated in academic circles and public debate.”

Exchange of knowledge and ideas

Along with the panel, an exhibition showcased the Doha Unlimited Design Award 2016 prize-winning team’s vision for the city. Awarded by the British Council Qatar, the competition saw UK- and Gulf-based designers take part in a week-long design residency under the theme of ‘The Open City’, with a particular focus on mobility and making Doha more open and accessible to all.

Commenting on the collaboration between the British Council and UCL Qatar, Dr. Frank Fitzpatrick, Director of the British Council Qatar, said, “Both the United Kingdom and Qatar are well-known for their remarkable architecture, and we hope to strengthen our relationship with Qatar by creating opportunities for further collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

Ongoing collaboration with Qatar Museum

Following the festival, Professor Carter continued the exploration of Doha’s rich architectural heritage with a lively Rob Carter lecturing in Qatarpublic lecture, ‘The History Beneath Your Feet: What Urban Excavation Can Tell Us About Historic Doha and the World.’

The lecture provided further evidence for the breadth of UCL Qatar’s collaboration with external partners. The latest milestone in the successful architectural collaboration between UCL Qatar and Qatar Museums, Carter and Dr Ferhan Sakal, Head of Archaeology Operations of Qatar Museums, shared updates on recent achievements of the partners’ Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation.

The excavation helps to document lives of the people of Doha, from the town’s foundations being laid in the early 19th century through to the impact of the discovery of oil in the 1950s.

Following his talk, Professor Carter said: “Together with our partners at Qatar Museums, we have made remarkable progress in uncovering news and important aspects of Qatar’s rich history, building up a detailed understanding of the country’s past.

“The rapid, exciting development of Doha now adds a real urgency to our work – and whilst a great deal has been achieved already, thanks to the level of collaboration to date, we’re enormously excited about the next phase of the project.”

UCL-IIT Delhi green tech workshop to support rural communities in India

SophieVinter7 September 2017

UCL and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi are to deliver a three-day international workshop focused on finding environmentally friendly solutions to pressing challenges.

The Closed Loop Green Technologies for Rural Communities workshop, hosted at IIT Delhi from 11-13 September, will explore the reuse of solid and food waste for energy generation, improved water resources management, sanitation and energy provision.

Set up through a Newton Bhabha Fund Researcher Links grant, the workshop supports India’s Unnat Bharat Abhiyan programme with its vision of bringing about transformational change by leveraging the knowledge of academic institutions.

Connecting with local communities

Dr. Priti Parikh, Associate Professor at UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, and Dr. Ram Chandra, Energy Bioscience Overseas Fellow (IIT Delhi) are the lead coordinators of the workshop.

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan connects academic institutions with local communities to address development challenges through participatory processes and appropriate technologies.

The event will bring together early career researchers from India and the UK – 15 participants from each country – to identify gaps in research, foster new collaborations, facilitate knowledge exchange, develop ideas for future grant applications and make recommendations to support the implementation of Unnat Bharat Abhiyan.

The Newton Bhabha Fund Researcher Links grant is funded by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Royal Society of Chemistry and delivered by the British Council.

More information

Hola Colombia!

AbdulElmi17 August 2017

abdul-elmi_testAbdul is a fourth-year UCL medical student and President of the UCLU Somali Society

I’m sitting here writing my first ever blog thinking about where should I start. I suppose the logical place to start is the point at when this opportunity became a reality.

A few weeks ago, I was in Saudi, trying to withstand the blazing heat, feeling tired, fasting and doing all of this without Wi-Fi. I returned to my hotel room from the Great Holy Mosque of Saudi to an email notifying me that I had been selected to represent UCL at the One Young World (OYW) Summit in Bogotá, Colombia in October.

One Young World

Attending the summit has been a burning desire of mine this past year. One Young World brings together young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and with this in mind I would like to take this opportunity to thank UCL for making this possible.

February Fundraiser

My desire to effect positive change in the world really took flight earlier this year when I became heavily involved in a range of fundraising initiatives and events to raise money for the Somali Drought Appeal. Through the February Fundraiser, a student-led initiative organised by Somali Youth for Integrity (SYFI) bringing together Somali societies from different institutions, including UCL, we managed to raise £120,000 for the Somali drought. The organisations united under a common goal, to provide aid to those suffering at the hands of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two.

UCLU Somali Society, in particular, organised a series of successful fundraising initiatives for the February Fundraiser. The highlight was Inspire, where we managed to raise £40,000, in collaboration with Elays Network and Bright Education Centre. After this event, I was surprised to see how many UCL students got involved with the cause.

The UCL BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) Students’ Network allowed the Somali Society to fundraise at the end of the Black Lives Matter events. As a result of this opportunity, we managed to raise an extra £2,000. This was an eye-opening experience as it allowed me to see first-hand the potential we possess as students and that if we work together we can achieve anything.

Copyright Human Appeal, which ran the provided emergency food relief to drought affected internally displaced people
The outcome

The money raised during the February Fundraiser, in collaboration with UK charity Human Appeal, provided emergency food relief to drought affected internally displaced people and host communities. It also provided clean and safe water to vulnerable households in Dolow and Luuq districts. The project will rehabilitate community owned water infrastructure to improve suitability and ownership as well as improve hygiene awareness and enhance the food security of vulnerable households.

One thing that is clear from all the amazing work done by students on campus is that more and more young people are discussing important global issues. Not only with regards to humanitarian affairs, but also political matters such as the current debacle regarding university tuition fees and the NHS.

The future

My hope is that I will return from the summit with a clear vision of how I would like to use my newly elected position, as the next President of the UCLU Somali Society as well as the Vice-President of SYFI, to start discussions regarding some of the world’s most pressing issues. I would also work to provide plenty of opportunities for individuals to make a difference.

I feel that it is of utmost importance to involve students in these discussions so they can provide a unique insight into potential solutions. I want to inspire students to do more for those in need. I would like more people to become motivated and involved. We are the generation that should solve a lot of the world’s issues so it is really important for us to work together effectively to make strides to overcome them.

Last but not least, I’ve enrolled myself onto a Spanish language course and have already started to practise my salsa dancing with ‘Despacito’ on loud. Hola Colombia, I’m ready for you!

Images © Human Appeal

Moving from ‘burden sharing’ to inclusive prosperity: A RELIEF workshop

GuestBlogger16 August 2017

By Hannah Sender, Projects, Planning and Advocacy Manager, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

Students at the Second Bourj Hammoud Public SchoolIn April 2017, UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) in collaboration with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB) hosted a one-day workshop in Beirut, supported by UCL’s Global Engagement Fund. The workshop explored the demands placed on Lebanon since 2011 with the arrival of over one million refugees from Syria, and potential areas of work for those wishing to enhance inclusive prosperity for hosts and refugees in Lebanon.

This workshop was the first to be organised as part of RELIEF (Refugees, education, learning, information technology and entrepreneurship for the future): an interdisciplinary centre led by Professor Henrietta Moore (IGP Director) and funded by the UK ESRC’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

The RELIEF Centre is a five-year initiative of UCL, the AUB and the Centre for Lebanese Studies at the Lebanese American University (LAU). UCL’s Development Planning Unit, the Department for Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, the Institute of Education, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies are all partners.

The recent workshop brought together participants from INGOs, local NGOs, universities in Lebanon and the UK and social activists. Drawing on professional and personal experience, these participants gave rich and varied insights into some of the key ideas of RELIEF, and into the changing relationship between refugees and hosts in Lebanon.

Hospitality in Lebanon

The first session of the workshop, opened by Dr Nikolay Mintchev (IGP), invited participants to problematize and discuss the cultures of hospitality in Lebanon, as they related to Syrian refugees. Lebanon’s hospitality is often referenced by INGOs and foreign governments: in the same breath, they celebrate Lebanon’s hospitality, and announce that it is now over-stretched to the point where conflict is likely. The question they then pose is: how can we enable Lebanon to continue to be a good host to refugees?

The term ‘hospitality’, however, proved to not only have multiple meanings for the participants, but also to be a seriously limited and problematic term. As one participant remarked, it may be depoliticising what is a deeply political issue, and neutralising the real burden placed on Lebanese communities and Lebanese resources.

One observation did unite the participants: since 2013, interactions between hosts and refugees have changed for the worse. Some participants suggested that as time has gone on, people’s perceptions of the possibility of Syrian refugees returning to Syria have changed. This has engendered a fear that Syrians will continue to put pressure on scarce resources, and become competitors for work, housing and education.

Inclusive growth

The RELIEF Centre proposes that inclusive growth – in the broadest sense of the term – is a necessary and good ambition for places severely affected by mass displacement. However, as Dr Nasser Yassin (AUB) put it, inclusive growth is a notion which challenges 27 years of development in Lebanon. It makes demands on governments to consider what kind of growth is desirable, and how it impacts people differently. Too often, these considerations are overlooked in favour of one kind of growth – economic growth – without much concern for how it impacts people differently.

A further discussion arose on how transformative change can occur on the level of the community and individual. Many participants spoke from their own experiences of working with local governments, which had created their own strategies for managing limited resources. Researchers need to consider the value of politics and economic strategy at the local scale, and see whether there is room for manoeuvre at this scale, as well as at the national level.

Education as a practical intervention

Moving on to the afternoon session, the participants were invited to turn their minds to another important component of the RELIEF project: education for communities affected by mass displacement and conflict.

Professor Maha Shuayb (Centre for Lebanese Studies) gave a presentation about the state of education for refugees and host communities in Lebanon. She prompted important questions about identity and difference, and how these imposed categories have created unnecessary divides in delivery of education between refugee and host communities. She suggested that the notion of vulnerability is relevant to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese children, and that educational programmes need to confront and properly function in student groups with a diversity of needs and capabilities.

Pathways to practice

Whilst critical analysis of the challenges which host communities and refugees face in Lebanon is vital to understanding the context in which we are working, the RELIEF team wanted to end the workshop with an insight into spaces of potential action: new policies, engaged institutions, and cultural shifts which could serve as a platform for innovation.

In the final session, the workshop participants were joined by Marina Aksakalova and her team from UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency). The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, she reported, had given renewed support for a cohesive response to the refugee crisis. It is now possible to develop a strategy and take a more entrepreneurial approach towards it.

The question of inclusivity – who is included and in what – dominated the debate throughout the workshop. The acute needs of people in Lebanon – from host communities to refugees – have created a tense situation in the country, where claims of difference have been deployed to ensure and, conversely, prevent, access to resources. In the final session, there was a hope raised, shared by the partners in the RELIEF Centre: that responses to individual crises can be integrated with the provision of goods and services that are required to live a good life in Lebanon.

Image © Dominic Chavez/World Bank: Students at the Second Bourj Hammoud Pubic School in Beirut, Lebanon. Two-thirds of the students at the school are Lebanese and one-third are Syrian.

UCL in the Middle East: a critical discussion

GuestBlogger9 June 2017

By Dr Ruth Mandel, Vice-Dean (International) for Social and Historical Sciences

Speakers at UCL in the Middle East
In an event sponsored by UCL’s Global Engagement Office, Professor Andrew Barry (Geography), Dr Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh (Geography) and I brought colleagues together to launch a critical discussion about the fundamental problems inherent in the category of ‘Middle East Studies’ in particular, and area studies more generally.

In her ethnographically rich keynote talk, Dr Yael Nararro (Cambridge) described her recent research on the Syrian/Turkish border with a Muslim minority group. This was followed by a panel made up of four speakers whose topics ranged from historical analysis of provocative material pertaining to refugees in Greece who survived the Turkish War of Independence (Georgos Kritikos), the complexity of successively incoming layers of refugees in camps in Lebanon (Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh), an analysis—spatial, photographic and political—of the devastation of neighborhoods of a Kurdish city in Eastern Turkey (Ulrike Flader), as well as a description of the rehabilitation through an invented ritual, designed to reintegrate Yezidi women and girls who had escaped from the violent captivity of Isis (Tyler Fisher).

Afternoon talks included Bev Butler’s presentation in which she raised questions about the myriad ways heritage is used and understood by different actors, particularly in the context of different refugee camps in Lebanon.

Other talks touched on research methods, ethics, and the political-history of oil.

Andrew Barry’s talk nicely closed the session by interrogating the inherent politics of entailed in decisions about oil pipelines, but also the cultural politics of seismic behaviour and research, and the observation that geological mapping and political mapping can be at radical odds.

A final summing up of the day’s themes tied together a number of issues. The huge ramifications of shifting and contested borders, for example, with political/cultural/economic/geological boundaries rarely mapping easily, raised the notion of a viewing the complex configurations as a palimpsest, with layers revealing the historical reverberations and remnants (Navarro) of multiple iterations of violence.

Moreover, with millions of refugees and exiles in Europe and beyond, the very notion of a geographically-bounded Middle East no longer is relevant in the way it once might have been.

This led to a discussion of digital migration and identities, transnational relations, and digital heritage coming to the fore in diasporic contexts. The metaphor of palimpsest arose, useful to the study of overlapping territories, people, reverberations and remnants.

UCL in the Middle East 2017: The Middle East re-mapped

ClareBurke10 May 2017

5 June 2017 (10am-4pm), Anthropology seminar room, Department of Anthropology

Keynote: Dr Yael Navaro, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Reflecting a wider interest in ‘re-mapping area studies’ at UCL, the aim of this workshop is to explore how the Middle East might be rethought and re-drawn today.

There will be contributions from researchers across the social sciences, arts and humanities that address the question of how to map the Middle East, whether conceptually, creatively, or through empirical research.

The workshop will be organised around two broad themes:

  • Creatively approaching the Middle East, and
  • Outsiders Within and Insiders Without.

Dr Yael Navaro will give a keynote lecture to introduce the event on: ‘Encrypted Arabic: Language as a Materiality at the Contested Turkish/Syrian Frontier’.

Read the full UCL in the Middle East programme and register to attend here.

The event has been organized by Professor Andrew Barry and Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (UCL Department of Geography), and Professor Ruth Mandel (UCL Department of Anthropology).

International conference: Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century

GuestBlogger5 May 2017

Written by Narinder Kapur, Visiting Professor of Neuropsychology

Gandhi Fellows, their families, UCL's Dr. Caroline Selai and Sreemoyee Chatterjee, a Times of India journalistThe year 2015 saw the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and 2017 is being celebrated in Britain as the India-UK year of culture to mark 70 years of Indian Independence.

These events provided an ideal opportunity to uphold and renew Gandhi’s ideals for the promotion of his principles of nonviolence, tolerance and justice, and for a focus on the problems of the poor and needy in the world.

With these aims in mind, on 28 April 2017 we held an international conference at UCL entitled – Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century: Gandhian Themes and Values.

The purpose of the conference was to raise awareness of Gandhian ideals, to encourage people in India and the UK to think about Gandhian issues and values, and to encourage innovation in producing solutions to problems such as poor healthcare, education access and violence in society.

Topics that were covered included Gandhian perspectives on justice, education, nonviolence, and health, as well as a focus on village India and how innovations, such as frugal medical innovations, can be cheaply produced and help common conditions.

Pro-Vice-Provost South Asia Professor Marie Lall (UCL Institute of Education) outlined some of the key collaborations that UCL has with India, and we enlisted eminent speakers from the UK, India and the USA to speak on a range of topics related to Gandhian issues and ideals.

In parallel with the conference, we held a major exhibition of Gandhi-related items, including:

  • Frugal innovation devices in healthcare, to parallel the talk given by Professors Prabhu and Bhargava. This included devices jointly developed by the All India Medical Institute in Delhi and Stanford University, as well as the Jaipur Limb
  • A set of 100 unique photographs provided by GandhiServe in Germany
  • Interactive displays where delegates explored issues related to global citizenship, altruism and moral judgment
  • A virtual reality app built specifically around the Taj Mahal and Gandhi, where delegates could feel what it is like to be at the Taj Mahal and also ‘in the skin’ of Gandhi
  • A Gandhi in Sight and Sound powerpoint presentation that had key speeches and video clips about Gandhi, including a Gandhi ‘Rap’ song by MC Yogi.

In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, and in order to have maximum participation in the conference, we did not charge for attendance. Since Gandhi was keen for his values and ideals to permeate throughout India, as well as countries such as the UK, we funded five fellowships to enable young Indian citizens to attend the conference.

They were selected as part of an essay competition, with the essay including a focus on how Gandhi is relevant today, and how he can be made more relevant.

Around 100 delegates attended the event, including a journalist from the Times of India.

Beyond Medicine: Difficult Dialogues 2017

JasonLewis3 May 2017

Written by Ina Goel, research scholar at UCL and runs the hijra project

A public health system is a complex intersectional unit of people, institutions and resources determining the heath culture of a society. Prof. Debabar Banerjii explains health culture as  an ecological approach that allows us to analyse epidemiology, cultural perceptions, health technologies and health behaviour within a country. At the recently held Difficult Dialogues conference, I got a chance to be a part of the shifting debates on India’s health culture. My panel was on gender and health, which  looked at gendered determinants of health inequities in India. Key focuses were on issues related to gender-based violence, sexuality and access to reproductive and medical technologies.

Rudrani on Difficult Dialogues 2017 panel

As a social scientist who has spent the last seven years working with the hijra communities (trans communities known as third gender) in India, I was invited to draw on my experience of working in the field. I spoke about the gaps between the policy prescriptions and their implementation when it comes to accessing public health by the hijra communities. I got a chance to meet and interact with other experts in the field from journalism, academia and public policy that helped me strengthen my understanding in an interdisciplinary way. Difficult Dialogues gave me a platform to bring out the discrepancies between well-meaning policies and the living realities of hijra communities in India.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared that hijras be treated as the third gender. This landmark judgment gave affirmative action to hijras by adding them to the OBC (Other Backward Class) category, as a means of securing this quota. The Supreme Court further directed the Centre and State governments to urgently look into the problems faced by the hijra communities and made recommendations for providing proper medical care and separate public toilets for hijras. On one hand, the hijras are celebrated in Indian society because of their symbolism in representing several androgynous gods.  On the other hand, the hijras are often victims of sexual harassment, abuse and rape, with no laws in place capable of dealing with a hijra rape complaint. Given their socially marginalised status and the prejudices hijras face, the issue of underreporting of crimes against hijras is perhaps understandable. There is also a refusal to accommodate and acknowledge the sexual identities of hijras because there is an anti-sodomy law in practice in India. This contradiction in law means that whilst hijras can officially be recognised as the third gender, it does not allow hijras to openly come out and truly live their lives. We thus have a system that fails to recognise the felt needs of hijras.

In India, many hijras are castrated. Often, it is believed that after castration, the hijra achieves nirwana or rebirth that earns the hijra the power to bless or curse other people. However, according to the Indian Penal Code, the legality of the practice of castration is under question and there is a lack of formal guidelines issued by the Medical Council of India regarding sex-reassignment surgery. Though there are some places that offer surgery to hijras at huge costs, many hijras do not have access to those facilities or the resources to sustain them. Given this constrained situation, many hijras are forced to go to quacks and faith healers to get themselves castrated. Little academic insight exists to address the issue of violence involved in castration given the centrality of the castration operation in hijra communities and the lack of proper routes to access it. Recognising violence as a social determinant to health is critical to understanding the health needs of hijra communities in India.

Resisting violence against hijras should be the first and foremost step that the Indian government should look into. Yes, a promise for a better hijra life is essential but aiming to provide separate public toilets for hijras in a country still struggling to deal with open defecation and manual scavenging might be a little too far-fetched for immediate implementation. For better outreach and improved accessibilities, public health policy makers should recognise the relationship between the living experiences of hijras and theoretical understanding of them. The big question remains the same: How do we  ensure true equity for those who need it the most?

The theme for Difficult Dialogues 2018 is gender with the hope of finding better solutions to such difficult questions.

 

Photo: Rudrani (c) (hijra activist and founder of India’s first Transgender Modelling Agency)

References:

Banerji, D (1985): Health and Family Planning Services in India: An Epidemiological, Socio-cultural and Political Analysis and a Perspective, Lok Paksh, New Delhi