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How is Bangladesh Embracing gender Diversity and Inclusion?

How is Bangladesh Embracing gender Diversity and Inclusion?

In recent years, Bangladesh has witnessed a notable shift in the discourse surrounding gender identity, with increasing discussions regarding self-identification and societal perceptions. Traditionally, the binary understanding of gender, delineated into "boy" and "girl," has predominated in Bangladeshi society, underpinned by entrenched norms dictating the roles and behaviors deemed appropriate for each gender. However, amidst a global movement challenging binary gender constructs, Bangladesh is experiencing a significant paradigm shift. 

This transition is marked by a growing acknowledgment that gender identity exists along a spectrum, transcending rigid categorizations of male and female. While this phenomenon is not unique to Bangladesh and reflects broader global trends, its resonance within a society historically characterized by adherence to traditional gender roles underscores its significance. Concurrently, legislative reforms aimed at safeguarding the rights of individuals whose gender identity diverges from conventional norms underscore the government's recognition of the need for legal protections and societal inclusivity. Thus, against the backdrop of evolving social attitudes and legal frameworks, Bangladesh is witnessing a pivotal moment in its discourse on gender identity and rights, with implications for societal norms, legal jurisprudence, and the pursuit of social justice.

Historical Context and Legal Evolution

Prior to 2013, Bangladesh's legal system only recognized two genders, male and female, reflecting the prevailing societal norms. However, the existence of individuals whose gender identity did not align with these binary categories presented significant challenges, including social ostracization, economic marginalization, and legal invisibility. The hijra community, comprising individuals whose gender identity falls outside the male-female binary, faced systemic discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society.

Recognizing the need to address the plight of the hijra community and ensure their inclusion in society, the Bangladesh government took a landmark step in 2013 by officially recognizing hijras as a third gender. This recognition was formalized through amendments to existing laws, including the Voter List Act 2009, which now includes "hijra" as a distinct gender category alongside male and female. This legal recognition marked a significant shift in the country's approach to gender identity, signaling a departure from binary conceptions towards a more inclusive framework.

Defining the Third Gender

Central to the legal recognition of the third gender in Bangladesh is the criterion of gender ambiguity. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights offers a definition of third-gender individuals as those who do not fit within the typical definitions of male and female bodies. This ambiguity encompasses physical traits such as chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals, rather than solely relying on mental or self-identified gender identity.

In practical terms, this means that individuals seeking recognition as a third gender in Bangladesh must demonstrate physical characteristics that deviate from conventional male or female norms. While this criteria may seem restrictive to some, it reflects the legal parameters established within the country's legal framework and aligns with international standards regarding gender recognition.

Implications and Challenges

Although Article 28(1) of Bangladesh's constitution protects the rights of individuals states that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race caste, sex or place of birth”, it is difficult to establish in the society. 

The legal recognition of the third gender in Bangladesh represents a significant milestone in the fight for gender equality and social justice. By acknowledging the existence of diverse gender identities, the government has taken a crucial step toward promoting inclusivity and combating discrimination against marginalized communities. However, despite these advancements, challenges persist in ensuring the full realization of rights for third-gender individuals.

One key challenge lies in the implementation and enforcement of legal protections for the third gender. While formal recognition is a crucial first step, it must be accompanied by concrete measures to address systemic discrimination, provide access to essential services such as healthcare and education, and promote economic opportunities for third-gender individuals. Additionally, efforts to raise awareness and challenge societal stigma surrounding non-binary gender identities are essential to fostering greater acceptance and understanding within Bangladeshi society.

Initiatives Taken by Bangladesh Government for Hijra Community

On June 3, 2021, the government introduced a unique measure to incentivize companies by offering a five percent tax rebate if at least 10 percent of their workforce comprises individuals from the third gender or transgender community. This progressive step aims to promote inclusivity and employment opportunities for marginalized communities.

Furthermore, the government has initiated to integration of hijras into various sectors, including law enforcement. One notable effort involves the recruitment of hijras as traffic police officials, providing them with new avenues of employment and contributing to their rehabilitation and societal integration.

The government's commitment to improving the lives of the hijra community is evident through several targeted programs. In the fiscal years 2012-2013, a rehabilitation program was launched across seven districts, including Dhaka, Chittagong, Bogra, Dinajpur, Patuakhali, Sylhet, and Khulna. With an allocation of BDT 7,217,000, this program aimed to support 135 hijra students through stipends and provide skills training to 350 hijras aged 18 and above, totaling 485 beneficiaries.

Subsequently, in the fiscal year 2013-2014, the program expanded to encompass an additional 14 districts, with an allocation of BDT 40,731,600. This extension facilitated the provision of old age allowances to 1071 hijras, stipends for 762 students, and skills training for approximately 950 hijras above 18 years old. Additionally, as part of the rehabilitation process, 10 hijras per district received BDT 10,000 each, totaling 2903 beneficiaries.

Continuing its commitment in the fiscal year 2014-15, the government allocated BDT 45,872,000 for the program. It anticipated providing old age allowances to 1300 individuals, educational scholarships to 789 students, and human resources-related training to 900 individuals from the hijra community. Furthermore, after completing training, 20 hijras per district were set to receive BDT 10,000 each as a rehabilitation grant, benefiting a total of 360 individuals and bringing the overall beneficiaries to 3349 hijras.

These initiatives, spearheaded by the Ministry of Social Welfare, underscore the government's dedication to improving the socio-economic status and well-being of the hijra community. By providing access to education, training, and financial support, these programs aim to empower hijras and facilitate their integration into mainstream society, thereby fostering a more inclusive and equitable society for all citizens.

As Bangladesh continues its journey towards greater recognition and acceptance of diverse gender identities, there remains much work to be done. Strengthening legal protections, enhancing access to essential services, and promoting broader societal acceptance are critical components of this ongoing process. By upholding the rights of all individuals, regardless of gender identity, Bangladesh can strive towards a more inclusive and equitable society for future generations. 

Md Motasim Billa

Md Motasim Billa


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