The transgender community has historically been marginalized
Have you ever imagined yourself in a position of those who are denied access to basic rights because of their identity?
Let’s reflect on this: You are a young and loving member of a family. All on a sudden you have started to experience something different to your usual behaviour. For natural reasons, you feel quite opposite to your previous practices and your family doesn’t want you to be part of the family anymore. As a student, you are denied access to your school because the authorities don’t want to be prejudiced for accommodating an “abnormal student” by others.
Obviously, you would feel alienated as a result.
Where our “multi-layered” national identity often seems diverse, in truth it is nothing but full of discrimination, deprivation, harassment, and abuse -- in diverse ways. Unfortunately, it is all but truth that ever member of a society cannot access basic public services or enjoy fundamental human rights owing to a particular label on their identity.
Transgender people are one such minority group in many societies, who face constant denial of basic human rights, access to education, access to health care, employment opportunities, or participation in politics.
Bangladesh is a developing country, and we are going to mark our 50th year of independence in two years. Over the last four and half decades, a plethora of policies and legal provisions have been developed to address widespread development concerns. However, until now, Bangladesh has not had a single policy that is dedicated to the holistic welfare its transgender community.
Considering the small size of the transgender population and its social stigma in our country, it was not well reflected in the development agenda until very recently. While Bangladesh is a country of around 170 million, there is no statistical record of the transgender population -- even although the ministry of social welfare claims there is an estimation of some 10,000 transgender people.
But various NGOs working with the transgender community indicate that this number could be up to half a million.
Debates on the number aside, it’s gruesome reality that transgender people in Bangladesh go through unending violence throughout their lives.
Transgender people posit a challenge on the conventional concept of gender division, where human beings are classified as men and women within the idea of being “gender binary.”
Transgender are those individuals who are assigned a specific “sex” at birth but after a certain point of time they sense a different gender role, which is manifested through changes in behaviour. They have become social outcasts. The community cannot enjoy the freedom of movement, freedom of expression, right to political assembly, social security, and other basic civil rights owing to widespread systemic barriers and hate crimes which are deeply rooted in our social and cultural norms and practices.
Since a majority of the academic and skills development institutes bar them from accessing education at a young age, they always lag behind in the competitive job market.
The main challenges in empowering transgender people economically in Bangladesh is in making people aware of the struggles of the transgender community in order to drive an behavioural change towards the transgender.
Recently, the government has slowly but steadily embarked on the path to recognizing and upholding transgender people’s rights, needs, and priorities.
The official recognition of transgender as the “third gender” in 2013 was the first bold and historic step in establishing transgender rights in Bangladesh.
Following this, the ministry of social welfare initiated to include the transgender community into its social safety net programs and has launched several new programs on their skills enhancement across the country. Of late, the National Election Commission also amended the Voter List Act and incorporated transgender as a separate sex, after men and women.
However, a separate and full-fledged policy on transgender people’s welfare is all but required to bring the desired level of social change. Some recent recognitions of the transgender identity are creating more avenues particularly at structural levels, to advocate for transgender rights.
These sporadic events should be synchronized effectively under an umbrella, which would coordinate with all relevant duty-bearers and all other stakeholders in the country. These days, gender and human rights issues are a cross-cutting agenda in development planning.
Therefore, a policy framework on transgender welfare would fill out all existing gaps, incur resources, and ensure consistency and coherence among all other policy instruments which could also integrate transgender issues within those spheres.
Arup Barua is a Graduate Student of Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Public Policy School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest.