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The red lights of Jakarta

Working on the street makes waria vulnerable to violence and theft. They receive little protection from the police or Indonesian state. However, NGOs and civil society groups are fighting to reduce discrimination against waria. Since 2003 filmmakers and artists have held Q! Film Festival, which promotes lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) films. The ninth festival was held in September this year despite an Islamic group, Members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), staging rallies at the various film venues in Jakarta, demanding that the festival close down.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Seruni, a 23 year-old Indonesian waria - the Indonesian term for a man who has assumed a female identity – applies eyeliner in her rented room, in a modest house, that she shares with other waria. She is getting ready to go out to Taman Lawang, a street in the Menteng sub-district of central Jakarta, where she works as a sex-worker.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Seruni decided to adopt a female identity at the age of 18 right after graduating from senior high school. In 2010 she won the title of HIV & AIDS Ambassador during a contest for waria held by the National AIDS Commission (KPA) in Jakarta. There are estimated to be up to 35,000 waria in Indonesia, according to official estimates by the KPA. Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Seruni decided to adopt a female identity at the age of 18 right after graduating from senior high school. In 2010 she won the title of HIV & AIDS Ambassador during a contest for waria held by the National AIDS Commission (KPA) in Jakarta. There are estimated to be up to 35,000 waria in Indonesia, according to official estimates by the KPA.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

That same year, 2010, she also won the title of Human Rights Ambassador for waria organised by the Indonesian Human Rights commission in Jakarta. The term waria is derived from the Indonesia word wanita, meaning woman, and pria, which means man. It refers to men who assume a female identity. This can range from a person who dresses in women's clothes to someone who has had a full sex change.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos PicturesKemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

A poster in Seruni's house highlights the importance of using a condom. But Ienes Angela, an HIV programme manager at Srikandi Sejati Foundation, says that greater accessibility to condoms is only part of the battle. The bigger fight is against prejudice, which would allow waria to find jobs beyond the sex trade. Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

A poster in Seruni's house highlights the importance of using a condom. But Ienes Angela, an HIV programme manager at Srikandi Sejati Foundation, says that greater accessibility to condoms is only part of the battle. The bigger fight is against prejudice, which would allow waria to find jobs beyond the sex trade.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Nightfall signals the start of the day for Seruni, who is here walking down towards Taman Lawang. A study carried out by the National AIDS Commission (KPA), the Department of Health and USAID in 2007, revealed extremely high levels of HIV prevalence among waria. Levels ranged from 14 per cent in Bandung to 34 per cent in Jakarta. Eighty per cent of the waria interviewed in Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang and Surabaya had sold sex to male customers in the last year.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Seruni stands near another sex-worker. Ignorance of the fact that HIV and AIDS can be transmitted through anal sex has made waria sex workers vulnerable to contracting HIV.

"Some clients believe [anal sex] is not real penetration," explains Tono Permana, a national coordinator of the Jaringan GWL-INA Network, an Indonesian NGO supporting the gay, transgendered and MSM – men who have sex with men – community. In 2009, after receiving around $126 million from the Global Fund to fight HIV and AIDS, the National AIDS Commission (KPA) launched a condom campaign to educate high risk groups, including waria and men who have sex with men (MSM). Less than 50 per cent of waria interviewed in a 2007 KPA study used condoms regularly.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Condom use among the general population in Indonesia is very low, partly due to opposition from Islamic groups who argue that condoms encourage sex outside marriage.

In July 2009 the KPA began a condom use campaign focused on expanding education and outreach to youth and men most likely to visit sex workers. The commission aims to install 22,000 condom outlets by 2013 in the 12 provinces with the highest HIV prevalence.

Credits: Kemal Jufri - Panos Pictures

Our photo essay follows a day in the life of Seruni, a 23 year-old Indonesian waria, a man who has assumed a female identity. She lives in Jakarta where she makes money as a sex-worker.

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Our photo essay follows a day in the life of Seruni, a 23 year-old Indonesian waria, a man who has assumed a female identity.

Purple Romero

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12/01/2010

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