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Meet the trans group empowering trans women in rural Nigeria

Despite harsh laws against trans people in Nigeria, a Nigeria-based trans group is courageously working to protect and improve the lives of trans women in rural parts of Nigeria.

By Kingsley Emeka

In Nigeria, trans women face various forms of discrimination and stigma. This is largely due to misinformation and misconceptions amplified by religious organizations and the mainstream media.

This has led to an increase in transphobic and violent attacks against trans women who are often perceived by the Nigerian public as gay men.

Sadly, trans women living in rural areas face the worst situations and are often sidelined from the programmatic work carried out by the larger LGBT organizations in the major cities.

However, for trans women living in some rural parts of Nigeria, all hope is not lost, as a trans-led group is working to bridge that gap by providing support and safety for poor trans women in the villages.

The group, Care & Dignity Foundation, which was established in 2018 by four passionate young trans women, works to empower trans women in rural communities in Nigeria by providing economic empowerment programs as well as a safe shelter for homeless trans women in local communities in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Speaking to RA about the motivation to start up the group, Mariah Obinna, the executive director of the organization, stated that it was to challenge and put an end to the violence that she had experienced herself as a trans woman.

“Starting the group was a way for me to say enough is enough to the many human rights violations and violence that I experienced as a young trans woman growing up in the village. It was like I was almost forgotten with no one to turn to for help each time I was shunned and abused. I was raped and beaten on several occasions all because of who I am”

Obinna said many might call her brave and courageous but it hasn’t been an easy journey for her as a feminine presenting trans woman living in a small community where everyone almost knows everyone.

“I am very feminine and many may not know that I was born male, but here everyone seems to know each other as it is a small community. I have been beaten several times. Though some people might say that I am brave for surviving everything that has happened to me all these years, it hasn’t been easy for me at all navigating life. It can be very isolating and mentally draining trying to push back on injustice” she said.

Just like for many small unregistered groups, securing financial support can be difficult and in many cases almost impossible. Obinna spoke about some of the challenges the group has experienced with sustaining their work.

“Getting the needed support has not been easy at all. Like this year, we had to support and provide emergency safe shelter for 10 trans women. They all had to stay in a single room. We even try not to take on more than that as we do not have the funds to cater to their needs. Securing funding, especially for the type of work that we do has been very hard and we rely on individual donations to do our work. However, we are hopeful that as we continue to push forward, help will locate us.”

Speaking about the impact of their work so far, Obinna highlighted some of their achievements.

“Despite the challenges that we have experienced as a group, we can proudly say that we have achieved quite a lot. For starters, we have provided vocational skills training for about 1,400 trans women in the past couple of years and most of them have gone ahead to become very successful afterward. We have also partnered with other pro-trans groups to work on various media advocacy initiatives to amplify the voices of trans women in rural communities in Nigeria, something that has been neglected over the years and still is to a great extent.”