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Coronavirus: Transgenders hit hard as lockdown bites

  • Published at 03:37 pm April 18th, 2020
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

There are around 100,000 transgender people in Bangladesh, transgender leader Joya Shikder says

Mun Shikder makes flat bread in the morning and tears it into two equal pieces, one piece for breakfast and one piece for lunch. She has no idea how long she will be able to afford that half a piece of bread.

Mun, a transgender in her mid-20s, works as a sex worker for her living. She does not have the luxury to stay at home and get a monthly wage. Mun is part of one of those hard-hit communities who think if the deadly coronavirus does not kill them, hunger most definitely will.

“I am stuck at home with limited money. Even if I go out, I would not be able to find clients because of lockdown. No client means, no money for us,” Mun said while speaking with Dhaka Tribune.

On top of that, Mun’s family of four is dependent on her. Mun’s earnings were the main source of income for her family.

“I cannot live with them because of the social stigma. But I do send them money from my daily income. With this lockdown situation, I can’t provide for them either,” she said.

Mun told this correspondent she received a week’s grocery from a transgender leader and used up most of it.

As per the Social Welfare Directorate, there are around 10,000 transgender people in Bangladesh.

However, according to transgender leader Joya Shikder, more than 100,000 transgender people live in Bangladesh, mostly in Dhaka city.

“How you are going to get the real data when you cannot define what a hijra is?” she questioned, adding, “Being a transgender is not just about our body. A transgender could be a person who feels different than the gender assigned to her by birth.”

Trans people’s whole life is synonymous to crisis

Joya told Dhaka Tribune many transgender people cannot get aid during a crisis because they are not officially listed.

Trans people are not alien to crisis, in fact, their whole life is synonymous with crisis, Joya added

“Even in the midst of this pandemic, nobody is thinking about us,” she said.

Joya said she managed some foods and essential and distributed to some of the transgender people in need. However, she said, “It is like a drop in the ocean. Many of our people have been sleeping on an empty stomach since the general holiday started.”

Most transgender people in Bangladesh go store to store in their area and ask for money. Some work as sex worker and some collect money by blessing newborns.

The pandemic has halted the regular life of people all over Bangladesh.

Transgender people now can no longer collect money from stores or find any clients due to the Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh.

Fosiul Ahsan, director-Program (Health and Strategic Partnerships), Bandhu Social Welfare Society, said they made a list of 3,350 ultra poor transgender people with the help of community based organizations across the country.

Fosiul said they will provide two weeks’ food and essentials to them.

He said his organization’s staff donated one day’s salary to add to the fund they received from donors and some projects.

Day wage earners are suffering the most in this pandemic, true, but transgender people do not have to live on a daily wage if they get jobs in the mainstream sectors.

“Most of them are capable of having a permanent job but only a few RMG factories like Denim Experts and Zurhem are hiring transgender people,” he said.

Foisul said they are trying to work with BGMEA to see if more transgender people can be recruited and have a fixed monthly income.

'Death is inevitable'

The transgender community in Bangladesh perceives that death is inevitable if anyone is infected with covid-19, finds a survey.

Hijra community have been accused as carriers of the virus because of their outdoor activities and lifestyle, while some reported that the law enforcement agencies have harassed some of the hijras, respondents said in a research conducted jointly by BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), BRAC University and Bangladesh Health Watch (BHW).

Findings of the study titled “On the Fringes: Impact of the COVID-19 Shutdown on Hijras Personal, Social and Economic Lives”, covering 22 case studies, was unveiled at an online press launch on Saturday.

Interestingly, digital technology and presence of social media has been the biggest source of information and provide a breathing room to the hijra community – allowing them to connect with friends and hijra community, it finds.

Many of the hijra people, who are shunned by local elites and mosques, remain left out from traditional relief support provided by local authorities, while for a few, it is because they are not favored by local political leaders, they alleged.

Citing their concern over future, the respondents said unable to lead the traditional hijra life for those who moved back to family homes is resulting in depression and emotional distress (i.e. dress in male attire).

As recommendations, the researchers said public health sector and policymakers must take into account the circumstances of this highly vulnerable group during the provision of programmatic support during the COVID-19 crisis as well as in the aftermath of the pandemic.

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