27/02/2022 | Writer: Doğukan Karahan
Doğukan Karahan's "Inclusive social work under the effect of the pandemic" article is on the air today in our #forequality file!
In these recent years when we talk about health issue more than before the pandemic period, we had the opportunity to see together again how social work is a professional discipline whose value has not yet been realized, but which is also essential. I hope that I will touch on why this is an opportunity, how a global pandemic has connected with social work, and how this situation affects transgender people, a disadvantaged group.
A Brief Overview of Social Work
In its simplest form, social work is a professional discipline and a scientific field that puts forward a systematic work to equate individuals and/or groups that are disadvantaged in the society - together with public resource-supported practices - with the individuals and/or groups that are in advantageous position in the society together. When we look at the historical adventure of social work, we see that a culture of solidarity that develops over the beliefs and values that people have has changed over the years and emerged as a scientific field and a professional discipline. The practices that can be considered as the beginning of social work for every geography and culture of the world and their history have differences as well as similarities. In addition, it should not be overlooked that there is an equalization practice within the systemic work that social work puts on the relationship of the individual and the groups with their environment. Another thing that has formed the basis of social work practices that have come to the present day since social work emerged as a discipline has been its approach to sustainability and human life as a whole. This situation has turned into social policies with protective and preventive measures aimed at improving the situation(s) that reveal the disadvantage. This is one of the most important aspects that distinguishes social work from moral aid, support and philanthropy today and in the past.
Groups defined as disadvantaged in each society may differ from each other, and this may be related to the dynamics of that community and the way it defines these people.
If we make a definition for this article, disadvantaged groups can be defined as people who have limited or no chance to use public resources and participate in social life compared to other people. Although it is possible to count these groups as women, children, the elderly, the disabled, refugees, immigrants, LGBTI+s in the geography we live in today, in the shadow of the social problems people experience, their age, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as their religious beliefs, ethnic identities, they may become disadvantaged due to the cultural values they adopt, social status and many other variables. For this reason, the concept of disadvantaged groups can also be defined as anyone who is outside the hegemony established by the existing power holders and who suffers from this established hegemonic system.
From this point of view, considering the variables of the geography we live in, Kurds and Alevis can quickly take their place among disadvantaged groups.
The way the Social Work discipline works with disadvantaged groups is very diverse, as it approaches people and their lives as a whole. Basic topics such as access to health services, housing, employment, participation in education, access to justice, participation in social life constitute the main fields of study. The state of health and well-being, which is considered to fall within the working area of Medical and Psychiatric Social Work, has been defined by the World Health Organization as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease." And this can shed light on where we can get the basis of micro, mezzo and macro studies to be done while considering the individual with his/her environment. For this reason, ensuring the high benefits in the above-mentioned work areas and making the state of well-being sustainable will play a major role in the emergence of a healthy person. Therefore, health is a component of all forms and fields of work.
In this definition, where the state of being healthy and the state of well-being appear as two intertwined concepts, the fact that there are too many variables that can affect the well-being opens up space for critical thoughts on the definition, but the fact that there are many variables on an individual basis that can affect the well-being is not a variable that affects the state of being healthy. (Lotfi, 2019).
Social work has to work with the intersections of these disadvantages and variables that affect well-being. Just because one person belongs to a disadvantaged group does not mean that another person will be like that. Of course, a person can be both a woman, a refugee and a disabled person, in this case, well-being can only be achieved by working in more than one field at the same time. These intersections become unique with each person. After all, the personal is political and social work is for everyone.
In the early 2000s, when Turkey accelerated its efforts to become a member of the European Union, various laws, regulations, by-laws and circulars were made for the "disadvantaged groups", which became an important concept with the studies carried out within the scope of the EU harmonization process. Units for these groups have been established at the level of ministries and departments and their sub-units (Elmas, 2018).
LGBTI+s are one of the disadvantaged groups in our society due to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and deteriorating well-being on this grounds. Although it was envisaged that these units would work on gender equality and comprehensively eliminate the disadvantages that have arisen between the groups over the years and the reasons of these disadvantages, it will be possible to see that LGBTI+s cannot benefit from these resources created by the public over the years. Policies and practices put forward by some people who see gender equality only as a reading of equality between women and men have further increased the gap within the groups.
Each disadvantaged group stands out with its changing and diversifying needs. Although the needs vary and different policies must be followed to eliminate the emerging disadvantages, it will be possible to see similar cultural and moral codes underlying all kinds of violence such as discrimination, stigma, social isolation, employment, shelter, etc. experienced by the disadvantaged groups. In these days, when even the basic needs that a person must have in order to continue their life have become a matter of debate, it is a fact that a person needs a job in order to be able to feed, shelter and earn the necessary money for these. The struggle to meet these obligatory needs, which can start at a young age for LGBTI+s, is a field of work related to social work, as it is an area that has gained visibility over the years and where is carried out activism.
As a result of the social codes such as morality, tradition, honor and culture, which have been transferred from years to years together with the social subconscious and memory in our country and which were supported by the policies, we see LGBTI+s as a group that is constantly excluded, discriminated against, and whose rights are usurped. The struggle for survival, which can start with peer bullying and family violence at a young age due to gender expressions, can turn into a life-or-death struggle, starting with a rush to meet basic needs as soon as people get the chance to continue their lives alone. What I want to tell with those who have the chance to continue their lives alone is that not everyone is so lucky, because LGBTI+s and especially trans people are still fighting for their right to life, which is the most basic right in this country. Yes, we are still being killed.
Now everyone is Trans
In the next part of the article, I will continue as an Alevi, Kurdish and trans social worker of the Pink Life LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, Turkey's first and only trans grassroot organization.
Trans people have been called by many names such as transvestite, transsexual, bitch, immoral, perverted, sinful and many more. Sometimes we saw them in the news of "transvestite terror" on television, sometimes as a singer and sometimes as a part of show business. We did not have a problem watching someone or what happened to someone in front of the TV in our homes, but we could not let someone around us be like this. It was as if such things were always on television, and it was as if we were all too smart and normal to choose that way.
We do not know how many lives have left this world without being able to follow their dreams because of the fear and worry of what others will say. All we know is that the number increases a little every day. In order not to experience all these, the advice given to us by the upper minds is "being normal". Especially when it comes to trans people, I would like to briefly talk about the things that are the subject of the average life struggle of a trans person, in the light of original and never-before-heard ideas such as 'they should go to school like everyone else, get a job, work, who interferes with them, do what you want at home'.
Getting an education is a problem in itself. The emergence of the binary gender system in all areas of life can start with the state of not being like other women or men at school and turn into a great cycle of violence. We see that many people whose education life is interrupted either leave the house or are forced to leave the house due to the pressure and violence they face in the family, because the next step is to lose the person's life You are no longer able to work in many areas where you will need a bachelor's degree. Your job search attempts in the service industry end in frustration, even in areas where you don't need a degree to work because you're either not woman enough or man enough, and you're giving some clues about the deviant group. Your chances of joining the small minority of people who can find work are limited to jobs that are uninsured and for which you're penalized with overtime hours. The harassment you suffer turns into a silent movie theater where you have to keep quiet.
When you are sick, you cannot go to the hospital because you are subjected to violence in a wide range from doctor to nurse, from cleaning staff to security, from caregiver to other patients. After that, when you get sick, you try to heal at home without going to the doctor, if you are lucky enough to find a house. The landlords define the apartment as a ‘family apartment’ just because you are trans, and they do not rent you their home because they do not see you as a part of this artificial institution, which is considered the smallest building block of society. Because what do you understand from being a family while you are trans? Someone else doesn't care about the people living in the apartment, looks at the money he will get and let you rent the house with higher prices than they rent for anybody else. Sometimes while you are happy that you found a house to rent despite everything, in the meantime, signatures are collected from the other flat owners and you are kicked out of the house. Of course, no one cares how you put together the money needed to get home at that time, because you deserve everything that happens to you anyway, and no one cares whether you're alive or not. In order to sustain and live your life, you follow the only path opened by the society and pass through a large arched door, which is cursed by everyone, but adorned with gold embroideries and historical motifs, and start doing sex work. Congratulations, now you're also a dishonest bitch to never be with. People think they can do anything to you. Why? Because you're a transvestite. You deserve to be subjected to violence, to be extorted, to be raped and to die. When these things happen to you and you want to claim your right, or when you are no longer with us and we want to claim your rights as your sisters instead of you, you see that justice finds you guilty. In order not to experience all these, what society and the state expect from you is to be decent and accepted. If you are someone - who does not speak up, is content with what is given, is accepted as the norm, and abides by the moral rules -, they open a window of possibility for you to live more comfortably, but you see that this is a vicious circle because you may be hit by the draft due to that garish door that I have just mentioned. Are there any other examples? Of course, there is, but the result does not change.
Recently, many of us have witnessed, via social media, how Dr. Larin Kayataş was unlawfully banned from civil service and dismissed due to her unethical behavior. We saw how they pushed a woman who had endured all difficulties, who did not bow to the fate that society and the state had drawn for her and became a doctor, out of life by being hostile. Of course, we do not know that when others draw the limits of being normal, the limits of that normal will change with the disgusting words coming out of whose lips. Besides, aren't there trans people who can continue their lives without experiencing all these evils? Of course, there is. As we come across, we can learn their stories either firsthand or word-of-mouth through the whisper newspaper, but unfortunately, we do not have answers to the questions of where they are and what they are doing, because the continuity of the life they have achieved progresses in direct proportion to their secrecy. People are condemned to a life as if they should be ashamed of who they are. Since those who condemned us to these lives have no shame, we are ashamed instead of them.
Does the story I told above sound familiar to you lately? Not being able to leave the house, the fear that something might happen to you when you leave the house, psychological problems arising from staying at home for a long time, being out of work, not being able to find a job, working conditions without social security, fear of dying at any moment, high house prices, not being able to find a house, staying on the street and sleeping in the parks… Everyone knows about this long list because - especially with the pandemic - it has been a problem for the majority for a while. Think about it, you have become a rebellion by living the life style you deem worthy of trans people for only two years in a pandemic period. You have been forced to step out of your comfort zones and give up your privileges, and you have learned firsthand how difficult this part of life is. I am, of course, aware that experiencing the practices of a transgender person is not the same as putting yourself in their shoes. After all, when the curfews were lifted and you went out to the streets freely to take a deep breath, we, trans people, kept thinking about it more than once, because the mentality that forced us to stay at home has not lost its strength to the same extent as the virus surrounding the world. Although the reasons and other results may seem the same, the results of the existence of the heteropatriarchy and male-dominated system that we have called to fight together for all these years have begun to touch you, because you kept silent until it was your turn. Although, my belief that you are thinking and talking about these is as ambiguous as my belief that I connect all events with social work.
If you remember, I talked about how being healthy is connected and intertwined with a holistic well-being. The state of being healthy is a whole and it would be wrong to consider them independently of each other. In the light of all this, the struggle of trans people to exist in life clearly reveals how different it is from the privileged and advantaged group. Under all these circumstances, it is not clear how we can definitively help a trans person or even an LGBTI+ person who applied to me as a social worker without using public resources. First of all, it is necessary to pave the way for everyone to benefit equally from these resources. Our rights, which we believe are protected by law, are no longer protected. Without people to independently enforce the law, what is usurped is our lives along with our rights.
While doing my job as a social worker, I encounter many problems in the use of public resources. We are often helpless when we apply to the association on many issues such as gender affirmation process procedures in hospitals, exemption from military service, benefiting from social assistance provided by the state, using shelters, participating in education, and finding a house. To explain this with an example, the existence of women's shelters and retirement homes owned by the public has always been a big problem for trans people. When the person has no place to stay or seeks shelter from the perpetrator of violence, institutions treat the person according to the gender written on their identity card instead of taking them under protection, and most of the time they do not accept a trans woman because of their ID and a trans man because of his appearance. It is possible to see the same situation in nursing homes. Instead of preferring scenarios where good models in the relationship between the state and civil society can be taken as an example, people cannot reach the help they need because of the minds that demonize these organizations and ignore the words they produce. However, social workers are one of the stakeholders who witness the problems experienced by the public first hand and can produce the most effective solutions to these problems
Along with the health problems accompanying the atmosphere created by the social and economic problems that emerged due to the pandemic, we have partially witnessed the life conditions of trans people somehow. However, this is a topic of another discussion whether we have gained the awareness necessary for us to realize how much trans people whose life practices are pushed out of life, and to take action. LGBTI+s, who are among the disadvantaged groups in many parts of the world, had to deal with many problems during the pandemic period as well as before the pandemic. The problem of accessing and using resources before the pandemic continued to increase for LGBTI+s during the pandemic period. While many people who do not have a regular income and struggle to live under the poverty line, could not benefit from the resources announced by the state, LGBTI+s continued to be subject to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and could not access these resources again and again. Social service support models, which have been tried to be provided by the private sector and non-governmental organizations in recent years, have created a buffer zone in the problems experienced and provided consultancy, follow-up and guidance to people in the light of reliable and accurate information. However, the practices to be developed with government stakeholders at the macro level and the laws that protect the rights of individuals and the absence of those who enforce these laws will only illuminate a small part of the path that social workers will take with their clients. Additionally, local governments constitute one of the most basic steps of this path to be enlightened. It is important for every individual that local governments ensure equality in the distribution of public resources and develop appropriate practices. While social workers alone will be able to find a definitive solution to the problems of individuals, the depth and magnitude of the problem they encounter will unfortunately not be possible unless arrangements are made for the fair and equitable use of public resources. The importance of the services that both social workers and the state should provide to individuals independently of their own ideologies becomes more palpable in times of crisis such as a pandemic.
Efforts to legitimize their own existence through people whom they regard as 'things not to be' should be put aside as soon as possible and social peace should be ensured before the gap between the groups that make up the society gets deeper. The way of living together should be sought together.
Translation: Damla Umut Uzun
*This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kaos GL Association and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
Tags: human rights