In recent years the government has taken important steps towards acknowledging and protecting hijras, who are assigned the male gender at birth but develop a feminine identity, but the implementation of promising decrees and programmes have exposed hijras to serious abuse, said in a report released on the New York-based global rights body's website on Friday.
The 46-page report titled “I Want To Live With My Head Held High: Abuses in Bangladesh’s Legal Recognition of Hijras” documents abuses suffered by a group of hijras, when they were forced to undergo so-called medical examinations at a hospital in Dhaka in 2015, as part of a government employment programme.
The medical exams were ordered as part of the routine government hiring procedure, but there is absence of a clear procedure to identify and respect hijras, hospital staff responded based on their own personal biases, the report added.
Although a 2013 directive from the cabinet recognises hijras as a third gender, the government has not developed rights-based procedures for changing their gender on official documents, leaving them open to abuse when they seek to assert their rights, Human Rights Watch also alleged.
“The 2013 Bangladesh cabinet directive recognising hijras as a legal gender category was a watershed moment for a long-marginalised population,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at the HRW.
“But the lack of clear procedures for recognising hijras’ gender identity has allowed for discrimination and even taunting by the very officials who are supposed to protect hijra’s basic rights,” Ganguly added.
The government should urgently institute clear, simple, and respectful procedures requiring recognition of hijras according to their gender identity, and investigate allegations of abuse by public officials and medical staff, the rights group urged the Bangladesh government.
Rima C, one of the hijras who went to the hospital with the group, said she was asked to strip, and once naked, the doctors instructed non-medical hospital staff to touch her genitalia and asked her questions: “It was embarrassing. They examined us naked…. It is a medical test. There should be doctors. Guards or cleaners should not be there. They are not doctors…. The doctor is supposed to examine me, not them.”
“Absent clear, rights-based guidelines for recognising hijras, officials involved in implementing government orders have acted on their personal, biased understandings of what hijra means,” Ganguly said. “Rather than being viewed as equal to others before the law, hijras are often treated with contempt, and marginalised with no rights.”
Legal recognition and social inclusion initiatives for hijras are crucial for achieving basic rights and dignity, the Human Rights Watch said.
Hijras interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Bangladesh spoke of stigma, discrimination, and violence – often beginning early in life and at home, it added.
Many described difficulties in carrying out basic administrative tasks from registering to vote to opening a bank account as a result of having to carry government documents that erroneously mark their gender as “male”.
“The government of Bangladesh took an important step in declaring its recognition of hijras, and it urgently should implement a rights-based procedure for their recognition,” Ganguly said. “Anything less will leave hijras exposed to further abuse.”