The SOGI people are still facing obstacles including discrimination in education, employment, street harassment, barriers in practicing religion, and rejection and abuse from family
Transgender men and women are unable to change their gender on any legal documents due to the absence of a mechanism for legal gender recognition.
Besides, there is also a lack of understanding about the various clusters of gender diverse persons, which is why legal gender recognition is a must for all the diverse gender identities, speakers said at a roundtable discussion on rights of gender diverse populations on Sunday.
The discussion was arranged jointly by Bandhu Social Welfare Society and English daily Dhaka Tribune in association with International Republican Institute (IRI) at Gulshan's Six Seasons Hotel in the capital.
While presenting the keynote paper titled "What about us? -- Voices from the people of diverse gender identity in Bangladesh," Taslima Yasmin, assistant professor of Dhaka University's Law Department, said since December 2019 Bandhu and IRI have been implementing a project titled "Upholding Human Rights of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Population."
As a part of the initiative, in November 2020, Bandhu organized three community dialogue sessions in Dhaka, Barisal, and Khulna divisions where 120 members of the SOGI population participated.
Based on the opinions and experiences shared in the consultation sessions, a policy statement has been developed to reflect on the key areas of concern that lead to exclusion and deprivation of rights of the SOGI people, she said.
The study found that the government's policy documents indicate a clear lack of understanding as to the meaning of the various terms used to describe gender and sexually diverse people.
She said: "The 2014 declaration [recognition of hijra community by government as a separate sex besides male and female] did not carry much legal force to include hijra as a separate category of gender in all official documents.
"The term 'hijra' excludes other transgender people."
Harassment during receiving education
People of the transgender community face harassment and discrimination in the educational arena by fellow students and teachers, the study found.
Taslima said: "In general they face harassment for their gender expression while they go to receive education."
The SOGI people are still facing harassment and discrimination in employment, experiencing street harassment, rejection and abuse within the family, and facing barriers in practicing religion. They also lack access to health care, law enforcers, support services and fear of abuse of law, the keynote paper reads.
Areas for future advocacy
The study suggests appropriate mechanisms need to be put in place to allow a person to change gender identity in all official documents.
Family counselling and knowledge sharing, trained teachers and educators at all levels, and psychosocial counselling in all educational institutions need to be ensured as well, according to the research.
All concerned stakeholders (government officials, policymakers, law enforcement officials, judicial officials, etc) have to be brought under comprehensive training and sensitization programs to increase awareness on the issues around gender diverse persons, it says.
"Training and awareness programs for the medical officers and staff are essential with regard to the issues of health care needs of the gender diverse persons. The laws around sexual offences in the existing legal framework need to be evaluated to include sexual abuse against them.
"A separate law on sexual harassment at workplaces needs to be enacted in line with the Supreme Court's mandate, which should include sexual harassment against gender diverse persons. Protecting the rights of the transgender persons need to be assessed by learning from best practices around the world.
"It needs to be ensured that all public and private organizations adopt and enforce comprehensive and gender sensitive policies against harassment and bullying," the study also suggests.
The study recommended that the media have a vital role to play in creating public sensitivity and awareness around the issues of rights violations of SOGI people.
Speakers for establishing rights of gender diverse persons
While addressing the event, reserve seat lawmaker Aroma Dutta said: "Although the government has taken many initiatives for gender diverse persons, they are still away from mainstream life. There is a complex context between society and government over the gender diverse people."
She said: "We need to implement practical issues while developing advocacy policies. However, when the issue comes to the bureaucracy level, sometimes it faces challenges."
She said the transgender people should come out, and also can be attached with economic activities since they are very much efficient.
Parbhati Hijra, vice president of Sustho Jibon Somaj Kallyan Society, said: "Sexual identification and gender identification are two different things. We have to find a solution for this through advocacy.
"We need to struggle more for further recognition of diverse gender persons including trans-men, trans-women, bisexual, and others since we have already recognized as hijra," she added.
Shabnam Azim, associate professor of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University, stressed on the importance of awareness of people on the concept of gender.
She said: "Ensuring gender diversity is a distant topic where the society still cannot accept the rights of women."
Golam Monowar Kamal, executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra, put emphasis on research to find out the biological diversity and uniqueness of transgender community people.
Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir, director general of the Department of Youth Development, said only issuing gazette notification, making policies and formulating laws are not enough until those have been implemented.
"If gender diversity is especially focused upon, it can be established as a right," he said.
Maulana Mufti Mainuddin Siraji, principal of Bashabo's Madrasa-e-Mohammadia, said the authorities concerned should establish at least one educational institution in every district for SOGI people.
He also suggested setting up separate hospitals for their medical check-up.
Sabrina Fatma Ahmad, feature editor of Dhaka Tribune, moderated and summarized the discussion.
She said: "As per the recommendations, the discussion suggested involving cultural activists as well as media in promoting the characteristics that make the gender diverse population more unique.
"The media have to be more sensitive while talking about their issues."
Bandhu's Executive Director Shale Ahmed, IRI Resident Program Director for Bangladesh Geoffrey Macdonald, National Legal Aid Services Organization Deputy Director Md Aktarruzzaman, Naripokkho member Shireen Huq, Somporker Noya Shetu President Joya Sikder, and more than 30 participants took part in the program physically and virtually.