Indonesia: trans women face discrimination in access to Covid-19 vaccines

Indonesia: trans women face discrimination in access to Covid-19 vaccines

LGBTI people in Indonesia, particularly trans women, face significant discrimination in access to Covid-19 vaccines as the country rolls out its vaccination programme in the face of a surge in the pandemic, the ICJ said today.

Indonesia is planning to start vaccinating the general population in July and an electronic identity card (e-KTP) is required to be vaccinated. However, most trans women do not have, or cannot obtain, an e-KTP and are thus unable to access the COVID-19 vaccines.

“As we mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May, Indonesian authorities must ensure that LGBTI communities, trans women in particular, are not excluded from access to vaccines,” said Ruth Panjaitan, ICJ Legal Adviser for Indonesia.

To get an ID card, trans women need to present a Family Card, a document issued to the head of the family. However, many, trans women or waria have been kicked out of or fled their family homes without formal documents as a result of domestic violence. Between 50-60% of transwomen senior citizens reportedly do not have e-KTP, which makes it difficult for them to access government’s healthcare service, including COVID-19 vaccination.

“Most waria in Indonesia don’t even have an ID card let alone an e-KTP. The current system compounds the discrimination against trans women with the heightened risk of illness due to Covid-19. Indonesian authorities must urgently reform the e-KTP system to facilitate the legal status of people based on their own self-identified gender identity,” Ruth Panjaitan said.

Trans women who want to process their e-KTP in accordance with their gender identity have to first obtain an affirmation of their gender from a court, as the e-KTP does not recognize transgender. There is currently no definite and clear regulation for the legal gender change under Indonesia’s law or Supreme Court regulations, so the determination will depend on individual judges in each court’s jurisdiction. LGBTI activists have noted that in practice many judges apply arbitrary religious-based criteria to reject the petition to change gender. In most cases, the court that takes on the application still requires a doctor’s medical certificate that the petitioner has conducted gender reassignment surgery or other hormonal treatment as well other onerous document requirements, such as a psychiatric evaluation and witness information.

“These intrusive, arbitrary, prolonged and burdensome procedures make it even more difficult for trans women in Indonesia to get legal recognition of their gender identity, and lack of recognition of gender identity before the law blocks their access to health care,” Ruth Panjaitan said.

The Indonesian authorities have recently started their effort to reach out to transgender people in order for them to be registered in accordance with Law No.24 year 2013 and Law No.23 year 2006 regarding Civil Administration, which mentions that all Indonesian citizens have to be registered and that they have to have both ID and Family Card, so that they can get a good public service. However, the current system still falls short under international law to protect transgender people.

“Excluding and marginalizing trans women in the middle of a pandemic aggravates the longstanding discrimination they have faced from the Indonesian government, and it is also counterproductive to an effort to vaccinate as many people as possible to stop the spread of the disease,” Ruth Panjaitan said.

Additional information

Transgender people in Indonesia have a right to nondiscriminatory access to vaccines and overall rights to health, which is protected under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to which Indonesia is party. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has affirmed that all healthcare goods, facilities, and services must be available, accessible, acceptable and of adequate quality, especially to the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination of any of the prohibited grounds.

Under international human rights law and standards, a person’s declaration of their preferred gender identity for the purpose of obtaining gender recognition should not require validation by a medical expert, judge or any other third party. Requiring someone seeking legal recognition of their self-identified gender to undergo treatment is a breach of their right to protection against attacks on their dignity and physical and mental integrity, guaranteed under the ICESCR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party.

As affirmed by the Yogyakarta Principles, which address the human rights of LGBTI persons, gender identity is a private matter, concerning someone’s deeply felt individual conviction, which should not be subject to arbitrary third-party scrutiny. Legal gender recognition processes protecting the rights of transgender people must be conducted without medical requirements and it must be quick, transparent, and accessible, and effectively uphold the rights of transgender people, including their right to self-determination.

As of 10 May 2021, Indonesia has reported more than 5,000 new infections on average each day and 1,718,575 cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases. The figure brought the country to the fourth position of countries with highest cases in Asia. The inoculation programme kicked off in mid-January for those deemed to be high priority, such as health workers, the police and military, and other public workers. The proportion of Indonesia’s total population that has received at least one dose of a vaccine as at 4 May 2021 was 4.64 per cent.


Ruth Panjaitan, Legal Adviser for Indonesia, e: ruthstephani.panjaitan(a)


Press Release in Bahasa Indonesia.

Translate »