• Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
  • Last Update : 11:21 am

Small factory offers big changes for transgender people

  • Published at 11:34 pm July 16th, 2018

These workers were left largely marginalized from the mainstream, as society did not accept them as normal and turned them down every step of the way. Logos was the only place where they were welcomed with open arms, to be treated as human beings and the first factory to employ a large number of transgender men and women as workers.

Logos in Panthapath in the capital is a small factory that makes shoes and bags with jute fibre. 

Entering the factory, many workers can be seen cutting soles for shoes, some making designs on them, and others making jute swing bags. 

The workers have a unique common quality. These workers were left largely marginalized from the mainstream, as society did not accept them as normal and turned them down every step of the way. Logos was the only place where they were welcomed with open arms, to be treated as human beings and the first factory to employ a large number of transgender men and women as workers. 

This correspondent visited their factory to find out the workers’ side of the story.

A lifetime of undesirability

35-year-old Arian Munni, one of the workers, has been employed in the factory for seven months. She was born as Munna to Motaher Hossain and Parul Begum. However, when she was only nine years Munni knew she was more comfortablebeing a girl than a boy.

"Just into my first grade in school, I knew I felt like a girl," Munni told the Dhaka Tribune. "I would sit with girls in the classroom rather than with boys. But the teachers would always chastise me for it. They complained to my parents, and under such circumstances, I could not continue my studies."

Munni talked about how her elder sister's marriage broke off after her sister's in-laws got to know of her "peculiarity". "From then on, my family would lock me up in my room. I fled from home when I was 11."

Her trials were by no means near an end. 

"I slept on the roadside, and went without food. I worked in street-side hotels and households. However, nobody would keep me for long, as I would always wear a shawl over my shirt and trousers that gave away my identity."

The rest of Munni's journey went by begging, only to be taunted, teased and beaten by other street kids.

"I thought I was alone in the world," said Munni. "Then in 2008, I met a transgender community. They took me in. We would beg and go to different markets to collect money."

But that life was a wild existence. Munni talked about how everyone would shy away from them or behave rudely. Finally, Logos was able to provide a degree of stability to her life.

"It has been seven months since I joined Logos," she said. "I now earn a fixed salary of Tk15,000."

She added: "In the past, people would not want to rent any flats to me. Bus conductors would not allow me to get on a bus. But ever since I started showing them the company's ID card, I have been treated just like any other person."A large number of transgender people have found a place of solace in Logos, a small factory in Dhaka that produces jute products, where they can earn their living with dignity| Dhaka Tribune

 

A haven

Logos started its journey in 2014 under the leadership of Lulu Al-Marjan, its owner. But she only started hiring transgender people from late 2017.

Lulu does not consider her business to be a charity. She did not employ the transgender people out of sympathy. On the contrary, she sees them as any other "regular" human being.

"I am running a business here," Lulu told the Dhaka Tribune. "I do not see how transgender people are any different from other men and women. I am working with humans."

She talked about how her company is making jute bags and shoes that regularly get exported to countries such as Italy and France in Europe and Japan in Asia.

"We are earning foreign remittance for the government," said Lulu. "I think ostracizing transgender people equals to losing a huge amount of productivity. These people would be begging if they were not working. I discourage begging, and consider it a criminal offence."

'There should be an education quota for transgender people'

Along with Munni, there are 31 other transgender men and women working in Logos. When this correspondent talked to them, most of them had similar stories as that of Munni.

Annanya, who was Ayon before, was born to Habib and Hajera. She too fled from home when she was 15, and from then on led a life fraught with doubt and uncertainty.

"Everybody used to behave badly with me," said Annanya. "Nobody helped me during my toughest times. I could never hold a job for too long. However, now I am a regular job holder, and I have gained valuable experience by working here."

She continued: "I think life is better for me now. I would never go back to my earlier life."

Similar sentiments were echoed by Joya, who transformed herself from Joy at an early age. "I never imagined I would get a job like the one I am holding now," she said. "Earlier, I would only earn Tk5,000 per month, and I was anxious about my physical and mental security. Now, I earn Tk15,000, and there is little to be afraid of."

Logos, the company, puts each employee through three months of training after they are hired| Dhaka Tribune

 

The company puts each employee through three months of training after they are hired. Joya says the training helped her learn how to bring discipline into her life. 

"Now, even if I leave the job, I will know how to lead a better life without clinging to the transgender community," said Joya.

She further emphasized on a government quota that could help the transgender community to enrol in educational institutes, as most of them are barred from pursuing their education beyond a certain point.

"If we could be educated, we would no longer remain a burden to the society," said Joya. "If the government introduces a quota and makes education mandatory for us, then we will be able to play a role in the development of the society."

Transgender woman Rakhi, who leads the 31 workers, said this was the first time any company was offering an opportunity for so many transgender people to work together. 

"I singled them out, and then offered them the job," said Rakhi. "It was hard to work with them in the beginning, as they had no experience. But after the initial three-month training, they worked quite well."