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Dhaka Tribune

Factory stitches up opportunities for transgenders

Two hijras were enrolled in an RMG factory on September 1

Update : 06 Oct 2018, 11:07 PM

Until recently, the lives of Shima Akther and Dilruba Akther were like those of countless other transgender individuals living in Bangladesh.

Marginalised from a conservative society with their rights denied and their access to opportunities closed, a bleak road lay ahead. 

Both now see a bright future, however, after a Chittagong-based denim exporting company opened avenues into mainstream employment for transgender people.

Denim Expert Limited, in association with non-government organization Bandhu Social Welfare Society and USAID, has become the first private company in Bangladesh to take steps towards transgender inclusion.

From September 1, Shima has been recruited as a junior safety assistant on the production floor and Dilruba as a Junior Supervisor in the housekeeping team of the factory.

“My life was never an easy one,” Shima, 33, told the Dhaka Tribune. “After sitting my Higher Secondary Certificate exam from Noakhali College as Belal, a male, I left my home as my family was not accepting the changes that I have in my body.” 

Shima said she started living in a transgender community in Chittagong, where her job was to collect money. She then worked in different offices on a temporary basis, before taking vocational and computer training from a friend in Chittagong.

“I was engaged with different programs under Bandhu and joined the new job at Denim Expert from Sept 1,” said Shima, who shares a flat with Dilruba in Lakshmipur upazila in Noakhali district. 

Shima is now responsible for safety on the production floor, including checking fire and electrical equipment, managing personal protective equipment, controlling sharp tools, and working with the safety committee. 

“Now I have got a job, and I feel proud,” she said. “The job has brought honour in my life.”

Shima says that although she has been working at Denim Expert for over a month, it will still take some time to change attitudes.

“Though I do contribute financially in my family, only my mom speaks to me,” she said. “I still receive threats from the community now for engaging in the job, but Bandhu is providing me with security.”

Neglected past, respectful present

Dilruba Akther lost her mother when she was only six months old. After her father remarried, his new wife kicked Dilruba out of the house at the age of only nine.

“I left Dhaka for Chittagong where I joined the community where my job was to collect money,” Dilruba told the Dhaka Tribune by phone.

She stayed with the community for 12 years from 2006, before joining her new workplace earlier this month after being referred to the job by Shima.

“I used to earn Tk15,000 per month working as a community member, but there were no peace,” she said.

“I earn less now - Tk10,000 per month - but there is no humiliation. People do respect those who hold a respectful job.” 

Dilruba is responsible for keeping the office areas clean and is the overall in-charge of housekeeping on the production floor, under the guidance of her supervisor. She says she is now content with her job.

“I dream of living a conjugal life and I want to work for my community so that more transgender people can take up respectful jobs,” she said.

What’s next?

Shale Ahmed, the executive director at Bandhu, said they inked the partnership with Denim Expert Limited to integrate transgender members into the factory.

“In Bangladesh society today, transgender people are stigmatized and alienated from society even by their own families,” he said. 

“I believe the time has come to integrate them into regular society and allow them the opportunity to find gainful employment and make a contribution to society and the nation as a whole.”

Shale said a total of 15 CVs have already been submitted to Denim Expert and that in addition to Shima and Dilruba, the recruitment of two other transgender people is pending. 

He said: “The company has assured us of integrating the applicants gradually in their company. Our initiative is one of the baby steps into inculcating them into mainstream. We hope our maiden attempt will be a success.”

In its company blog, Denim Expert Limited says Shima and Dilruba’s co-workers have welcomed them to the company and work with them in the successful completion of their duties.

“We are very happy to have Shima and Dilruba become part of the Denim Expert Ltd. family, and we wish them every success for their long term careers with the company,” the blog says.

Denim Expert Ltd is not the only private firm working for transgender inclusion in mainstream society. 

Tanisha Yeasmin Chaity recently became the first transgender official in the country’s human rights watchdog, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Chaity joined NHRC as an executive on July 1 as a part of the organisation’s plan to better accommodate marginalized groups of society.

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