Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The rule of third genders

Where do the laws of Bangladesh stand when it comes to transgenders?

Update : 29 Jan 2024, 01:47 PM

For many, the term gender is mostly confined to two genders, male and female. But in modern times the argument for the recognition of many genders has gained traction, especially by those who follow the liberal ideology of the West. They argue that gender identity lies on a spectrum and is not confined to just a binary. Where does the law in Bangladesh stand in this regard?  

Before 2013 the law only recognized two genders in Bangladesh. Things changed due to the fact that there were people in Bangladesh who did not fall under the conventional perception of male or female. Since their gender identity was ambiguous, it led to a lot of issues in social acceptance, seclusion from society, and a lack of legal recognition meaning they were unable to get jobs and lead a normal life as a member of the society. This underrepresented group is commonly known as the hijra community. 

They had to resort to unorthodox methods of livelihood which caused inconvenience to the general populace, and only expanded the distance between them and others in society. In order to address these issues of such a large community, the Bangladesh government decided to recognize the hijra community as a third gender, and in their official gazette published in 2014, the Ministry of Social Welfare also recognized the hijra community as the third gender. Following this recognition, the Voter List Act 2009 was amended and “hijra” was included as the third gender -- forever changing the official genders of Bangladeshis to Male, Female, and Third Gender.

Since gender ambiguity is the main criterion to be included as third gender, does that mean anyone who does not show traditional male or female characteristics can fall under the umbrella of third gender? That would be no. The definition for someone who is a third gender can be found in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights where they specify that third gender people, “do not fit the typical definitions for male and female bodies,” meaning if someone falls under third gender they need to have physical traits that are ambiguous including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. So it could be said that it is physical ambiguity and not mental. 

So, according to the laws of Bangladesh, gender identity is very specific to male, female, and the third gender -- which means that if a biological male feels like they are a woman on the inside or a biological female feels like a man, the law does not recognize that. To reiterate, this is in accordance with the laws of the land -- which has been changed in the past.

Ishtiaque Ahmed Khan LLB, LLM Brunel University London, is currently working as a Legal Associate at Bakir Uddin Bhuiya & Associate. He can be reached at [email protected].

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