“Third gender is not a word, it is a Gender”
The third gender/Transgender is an identity-based category for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female. This may include people who want to perform or want to be presented as a gender that is different than the one which was assigned to them at birth, based on genitalia or other criteria. It can also include people who do not feel the male or female gender roles that their culture dictates in terms of social, sexual or gender role preference.
In Bangladesh this community remains socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Most make a living by singing and dancing at weddings or child birth, many have moved to begging and prostitution. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. As with transgender people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.
Third gender recognition for hijra community– aftermath and way forward
Jointly Organized by
Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS) and National Human Rights Commission (JAMACON)
Date: 29th April 2015
Venue: Abdul Karim Sahittaya Bisharod Milonayoton
Bangla Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh
National Human Rights Commission (JAMACON) envisions establishing and ensuring human rights culture throughout Bangladesh with a mission is to ensure the rule of law, social justice, freedom and human dignity through promoting and protecting human rights of each and every citizen of Bangladesh. JAMACON Bangladesh stands to provide supports and protect the victim from all types of discriminations and affirmed to be with every collaborative initiative so that the equality could be ensured in every tire of the society. As the mandate of JAMACON is extremely broad, it has identified and prioritized some of the most pressing human rights issues currently faced by Bangladesh which include violations of economic, social, cultural and health rights, discrimination against people with disabilities and Gender based violence.
Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS) was formed in 1996 to address and concerns of human rights abuse and denial of sexual health rights, and provide a right-based approach to health and social services for the most stigmatized and vulnerable populations in Bangladesh . It has been working on improving health and rights of Hijra populations since 2000. As a part of BSWS Policy and Advocacy initiatives over the last couple of years, it has been actively working with National Human Rights Commission, Govt. of Bangladesh and other relevant stakeholders on issues around health and human rights of Hijra population.
In November 2014, BSWS, in collaboration with Ministry of Social Welfare and UNAIDS organized a series of events under “HIJRA PRIDE 2014” in all divisional and central level to commemorate the day of third gender recognition for hijra community by the Government of Bangladesh. Based on the divisional recommendations, the central consultation session designed a way forward with specific recommendations and termed it as “Dhaka Declaration” with a view to addressing and establishing human rights issues of hijra community and placing them in a position where they will be able to add value to the society and its growth with dignity and honor.
Hijras are socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Though most of them are involved in singing and dancing at weddings or child birth as a part of their traditional Badhai culture but few of them are in begging and sex trade. Violence against hijra, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. They face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.
A landmark decision has already been made by the government of Bangladesh acknowledging the Hijra as third gender in 11th November 2013. This recognition will secure their rights, enabling them to identify their gender as ‘hijra’ in all government documents, including passports apart from allowing them to identify their gender as ‘hijra’ when personal information needs to be furnished. After a year of the government announcement, the third gender community is still waiting for a specific law to be enacted to cover their rights.
Realizing this issue, the seminar, titled “Recognition of Hijra Community as Third Gender and Future” organized at Abdul Karim Sahittaya Bisharod Milonayoton, Bangla Academy Auditorium, Dhaka on 29 April 2015 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) known as JAMACON and Bandhu Social Welfare Society.
Key Objectives of the Seminar
· Acknowledge, foster and advance the decision of the government of Bangladesh on third gender issue
· Determine the immediate and long term initiatives to overcome the legal and social barriers involving policy makers and civil society members
· Identify ways and opportunities to accept and include hijra community in the mainstream society
· Underline the community voices on their health care needs, human rights and social inclusion issues so as to facilitate their contribution in country’s growth
The inaugural session
A total of 198 guests attended the workshop representing different donors, UN agencies and GOs and NGOs in Abdul Karim Sahittaya Bisharod Milonayoton, Bangla Academy Auditorium, Dhaka with Mr. Suranjit Sengupta, MP, Chairmanof the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry as Chief Guest, Advocate Tarana Halim, MP, was special guest, Mr. Rupan Kanti Sheel, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare as Respected discussant. Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission presided the session. The event was graced by the presence of Ms. Nirupa Dewan, Member, National Human Rights Commission, Mohammad Amjad Hossain Khan, Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, and Mr. Anisul Islam Hero, Chairperson, Bandhu Social Welfare Society. Mr. Robaet Ferdous, Associate Professor of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka presented the keynote speech and the session was compeered by the famed writer Selina Hossain, Member, National Human Rights Commission. Furthermore, honorable representatives from different institutions, NGOs, Human Rights Workers, lawyers, Students and Social Media attended. In addition, influential Guru of Hijra community from different districts of Bangladesh also joined us to share their thoughts and distress.
Ms. Nirupa Dewan Member, National Human Rights Commission commented, in November 2013 GOB recognized hijra as a Third Gender which was a revolutionary step towards providing human rights to all citizens of Bangladesh. Besides thanking the GOB for the timely initiatives, she requested GOB not to limit the Nobel initiative bounded only in the paper but to proceed further with its effective implementation to attain respect for the hijra through different policies.
Mr. Anisul Islam Hero, Chairperson, BSWS welcomed all and mentioned that the seminar is a timely initiative and highlighted that it has been nearly 2 decades since BSWS has been working towards the betterment of the sexual minority population. He emphasized not to let the hijra individuals go through medical tests while seeking jobs or healthcare and treat them equally as any other individual. He also stated to discontinue the biological testing of the hijra group as it mentally affects them. Moreover, he requested hijra community representatives to convey the message of the importance of maintaining their dignity and not to enroll in any activities that prove to be disrespectful. It affects both the community members as well as the groups trying to help them to attain a better image among the general population. He made a notable request to Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW) to extend BSWS’s working area to serve more hijra.
Key note presentation by Mr. Rubayet Ferdous, Associate Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka
Mr. Rubayet Ferdous linked the existence and status of hijra from the ancient times, referring to the ages where hijra were considered as semi-sacred whose presence in the house during a child-birth or marriage was deemed to be holy. He acknowledged the bravery of Labonnya and Nodi hijra in capturing the murderers of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu. He also stated that even though the traditions have been kept alive by inviting hijra to a child-birth ceremony, the respect has not yet been given by the society. They are harassed by police and surrounded by myths and fear from the society. Their livelihood is unsanitary and dismal. Alike the western countries, hijras in Bangladesh are exposed to discrimination, lack of shelter, food, healthcare, education and employment. He admitted the efforts of BSWS and NGOs alike, whose relentless efforts were fruitful that lead to the recognition of hijra as a third gender, giving them the right to vote, have a national ID and a passport. Unfortunately, the implementation of processes for these activities has not yet been seen. He further recognized the activities done in Pakistan, Nepal and India in establishing mapping and good healthcare system for the hijra communities. Later he focused on the programs of BSWS such as Ain-Alap and forming CBO based organization that would further extend the improvement of their livelihood. It would be wrong to forget that everyone has the right to choose one’s gender or gender identity and there is no scope for any discrimination. If denied, it would be a clear violation of human rights.
Bangladesh is not a monolithic country; it is a multi-religion, multilingual, multi-gender and multi-cultural state, projecting the beauty of democracy. He requested the nation not to be secular towards religion but also to race, gender, language, and sexuality. Finally he highlighted some significant recommendations for future initiative:
Recognition as Individuals
· Must be acknowledged through constitution
· Introduce National ID as Third Gender
· Ensure Voter ID for all hijra community
· Reserve 5 quota for Hijra in the national parliament
· Introduce third box in all official forms
Ensure of health services
· Free treatment facility in all Govt. Hospitals
· Initiatives to reduce harassment to get access from Govt. Hospitals
· Incorporate sexual minority communities in the program of Maternity program
· Introduce Special care program for Mental support of Hijra
· Allocate Govt. land for hijra community prioritize elderly hijra
· Initiatives to build division wise individual neighborhood for hijra community
Inheritance property and legal support
· Specific laws and policies to ensure hijra rights
· Include hijra in Inheritance laws
· Develop Anti Discriminatory law to protect the rights of hijra community and other minority population
· Effective measures to enact the laws beside the formulation of different policies
· Establish discrimination free educational system to ensure basic rights
· Introduce hijra culture in National Curriculum in primary and secondary level with proper information and realistic data
· Introduce Hijra studies in different academy like other studies i.e Sociology, Anthropology, Social Welfare, Journalism, Public Administration, Political science.
· Initiatives to introduce formal, informal and technical educations for all hijra
· Create opportunity for hijra for higher studies in Open Universities
Role of Mass Media
· Increase the numbers of programs focusing and involving hijra community in the media and start campaign to stop presenting negative image of hijra in the mass media
· Produce documentary, film and investigating article on Hijra Issue
· Create employment opportunity and arrange training on Technical Skills
· Explore new and creative opportunity for hijra community and effective strategies to involve in the program and better livelihood
Introduce Quota system to bring equality
· Create quota system to enroll hijra in Educational institutes
· Initiate quota for hijra in Govt. services
· Reserve seats for hijra in Public Transport
Awareness and Advocacy programs
· Continuous program on mass awareness
· Launch special programs with family members of the hijra that will help to them to treat their Children as like as others
· Sensitize the guru of hijra about the culture, norms and values of the society that will help the society to change their views towards hijra community
· Create opportunity by the GO and NGO to create better livelihood options
· Arrange more awareness program on Gender Diversity
· Support those CBOs/NGOs who are constantly working on capacity building programs for hijra community
· Need to arrange social mapping and hijra census for appropriate and effective initiatives
· Secure Safety Net program in all 64 districts of Bangladesh
· To create positive image, more involvement of Hijra is required with the Ministry of Social Welfare
· Need to ensure them in National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS)
· Increase the budget for livelihood program under the Ministry of Social Welfare
· Ensure the Funeral performance after death as a part of rituals
· Initiatives to Protect the thousands years of hijra culture
Awarding the hijras for their bravery Act
Labonnya hijra and Nodi hijra have been awarded with Crest in the seminar for their outstanding and bravery attempt in capturing the murderers of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu. Each and everyone in the seminar shows respect and acknowledge their contribution and commitment towards the society and feel proud for them. Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and Mr. Suranjit Sengupta, MP, Chairmanof the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry handed over the crest to the respective.
Statement of Hijra Representatives
In this session, participants from Hijra community presented their challenges and experiences related to accessing Health, Education, Employment. Ms. Bobby Hijra, Executive Director, Shustha Jiban expressed her gratitude to initiate hijra intervention in 2000 and thankful to BSWS for their technical supports. She realized the importance of Community Based Organizations in Bangladesh and requested Social Welfare Department to be more cooperative to get the registration from NGO Bureau and Social Welfare Department. She also highlighted that right now more than 10 Hijra CBOs are working to prevent HIV through local level sensitization program. She Thanked Govt. of Bangladesh to take lead for the development of hijra community in Bangladesh and recommended to include Hijra Guru in Steering Committee, arrange regular meetings with hijra leaders for effective future programs.
Ms. Falguni Hijra from Chittagong shared her true story of harassment that she faced during seeking services from Chittagong Medical College Hospital. She urged Govt. not to create any form of discrimination based on their gender identity and requested to sensitize the Govt. Doctors through arranging seminar/ meeting.
Ms. Joya Shikder, President of Somporker Noya Setu, highlighted the importance of Policy that need to be taken immediately based on Third gender Identity. She criticized on physical check up by the doctors as a mandatory part to availing education stipend, livelihood training or elderly pension from Ministry of Social Welfare. She also claimed to understand Hijra Framework and their traditional culture.
Ms. Anannya Hijra, President of Sada Kalo shared her story of harassment that started from neighborhood and ended at office. She mentioned with Thanks that the scenario has been improving with the involvement of high level stakeholdersmeetings. She highlighted the strong and positive role of Media to change the stereotypical mind set of general people and promoting hijra culture in different media. She hoped that Govt. will take special care on inheritance law focusing Third Gender and create at least single quota in the parliament.
Speech of Respected discussant
Mr. Rupan Kanti Sheel, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare mentioned the immediate need for correct hijra mapping. He shared parents themselves are at times unaware of the sexual orientation of their children. In Jan 2004, during a census research, some hijra hesitated to reveal their true identities and therefore the correct mapping was not done.
Ministry of Social Welfare (MOSW) took initiatives in 2011 where they found 9,285 accountable. To help improve the lives of the hijra community based on data, MOSW initiated rehabilitation program in 7 districts initially.
He showed a clear visual scenario to the audience that in the year 2012-2013, MOSW gave scholarships to 135 hijra students to sit in different levels of examination (primary level-300/-, secondary level-500/-, high school level- 600/-, college level 1000/-). The seven districts were Dhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Patuakhali, Khulna, Bogra and Sylhet. Different types of training were given to 350 hijra with a total cost of 72,17,000/-. In 2013-2014, monthly stipends of Tk. 300/- were given to 1071 hijra in 21 upazillas of 7 districts, 950 hijra were trained for 50 days, and 2010 hijra were given 10, 000/- to help them start their own business.
In 2014-2015, they have expanded their work to 35 Zilla and targeted to give monthly stipend of 500/- , training to be given to 50 hijra, and Tk.10,000/- start-up money to 4020 hijra. He highlighted gracefully that 18 individuals have been given employment among which 14 are working in MOSW.
The 2015- 2016 budget would be double the amount of last year.
Speech of Special Guest
Advocate Tarana Halim, MP, recognized that it is her duty to establish equal rights to all. She mentioned that we usually compare the status of Transgender and Hijra with the western world, but to provide the facilities and rights to the targeted group, we first need to create and establish laws according to the rights and implement them effectively. She hoped to form a wholesome law soon that would address each problem faced by the TG group individually and target to solve them.
She further described different programs of MOSW that has been taken for the improvement of TG livelihood in 7 districts and thought to be expanded to 34 other places. She also highlighted the increase of budget amount to double the size than last year for improvement of their lives and hoped to cover all the Zilla in the future. She outlined that the TG group has been incorporated in the Social Safety Network and requested the NHRC to make a draft about the anti-discrimination law so that it helps her present the topic in the parliament.
Furthermore Advocate Tarana Halim appreciated the arrangement of such seminar with different Governing and Associated Organizations hoping to address a better approach of the issue. She also suggested the Hijra community to maintain their Dignity and Integrity that their image be positive. One very important point raised by her was to do exact mapping of the community that will create an open and safe platform for the TG members to ‘come-out’ and identify themselves, because being blind would not eliminate a group, but shun them further to darkness. She insisted on promotion of the issue to the mass people, and let them know about the correct rights of hijra population, which is like any other human being.
An open session was called where several questions were raised regarding the proper allocation of the allowance money to different districts by the MoSW, to which Rupan Kanti Sheel had answered that without proper enlistment, the money would not reach the individuals. Therefore, they suggested to properly list their names in the beginning of the year.
Some had also suggested to offer the trainings at district level so that more exposure can be achieved, MoSW considered the option and responded that expansion of the programs are being done and the suggestion would be kept in mind for implementation in the future.
Speech of Chief Guest
Suranjit Sengupta, MP, Chairmanof the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry asked to ensure the legal rights of transgender people in the state as there is no room for discrimination in the law or constitution. He admitted this inequality is created by our society. He assured that “No transgender individual should die without treatment, lack of shelter or without clothing. Hijra can take part in the development of Economy and society can work correspondingly with their heads held high”. He also asked Advocate Tarana Halim to present a private bill to the parliament for the correct rights of the hijra community as Advocate Tarana Halim playing a vital role to establish the rights of hijra. The past has always celebrated and respected the hijra cohort and its time when they are placed to their rightful places in the society said this while speaking as the chief guest at a discussion in the city. Suranjit Sen had asked Dr. Mizanur Rahman to send a request proposal to the Minister of Health and Education to allow free admission to the hijra children.
“Nowhere in the constitution is it stated that people of the transgender community are barred from getting family property. Nor is it banned in any religion practiced in our country,” said Suranjit Sen Gupta, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Law Ministry. “It is possible to ensure their rights to inheriting family property.”
Suranjit Sen Gupta urged action to promote the legal rights of transgender people in Bangladesh. “There can never be any room for discrimination. This inequality has been created by our society”.
Speech of Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chair of the Program
“The National Human Rights Commission will continue our work in applying pressure on the government to enact a law so that people of the Hijra community do not face any discrimination as citizens,” said Prof Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (JAMACON). He added that “Respect and dignity cannot be measured by the number of people in a group. The responsibility of the state is to ensure equal rights for every citizen. Mercy and charity funds cannot be a necessity of a citizen.” He requested the government bodies to ensure the rightful distribution of property for the hijra group from their families. Moreover, he asked for incorporating chapters in the books mentioning the existence of hijra. He further requested to train the lawyers of BSWS about human rights at the Zilla that they have been efficiently working for all these years so that they can provide a better service.
NHRC has found the truth on victim’s allegation; it arrived in a position to issue a notice to BMSRI for paying off the dues of Sohel Rana from May, 2013 to September, 2013. Following the notice BMSRI handed over all the dues in presence of the Additional District Judge, honorable Director of NHRC and BSWS representatives. Moreover, BMSRI has been requested and they have primarily agreed to take necessary initiative(s) for re-joining of Mr. Sohel Rana and finally from 1st January, 2015 Sohel Rana joined in his previous position.
The seminar concluded with discussants sharing a series of recommendations to promote the wellbeing of the Hijra community. The noteworthy recommendations are:
1. A private bill needs to be sent to the parliament for the rights of the hijra community.
2. New policy/law need to be enacted to ensure the legal rights of transgender people in the state.
3. The Hijra community will maintain their Dignity and Integrity through well mannered behavior that their image be positive.
4. Immediate actions need to be taken to get equal opportunity in education, treatment and employment and introduction of quotas in educational institutes, public services and parliament as well.
5. A request proposal will be sent to the Minister of Health and Education by NHRC to allow free admission to the hijra children in the school.
6. Immediate measures to ensure the rightful distribution of property and include property and inheritance laws for the transgender individuals.
7. Organize accommodation for transgender people; allot property to the elderly transgender people, on a priority basis.
8. Incorporate chapters in the books mentioning the existence of hijra and their traditional cultures. Different textbooks, scientific databases should have the right information with their identity, existence, cultures and traditions.
9. Train the District Level lawyers Group (DLLG) of BSWS about human rights at the Divisional level that they have been efficiently working for all these years and can provide a better services to the community.
10. Needed exact mapping of the community through proper census that will create an open and safe platform for the TG & Hijra members to ‘come-out’.
11. NHRC will share a draft about the anti-discrimination law so that it helps Advocate Tarana Halim to present the topic in the parliament soon.
12. A wholesome law need to be formed soon that would address each problem faced by the TG group individually and target to solve them.
13. Continuation of Livelihood program under MOSW should be on board and need to be expanded in 64 districts.
14. The constitutional recognition of transgender people must be established.
15. Creating new employment opportunities for the transgender individuals is necessary. Suitable employment and developing effective strategies need to be formulated.
Vote of Thanks
Mr. Mohammad Amjad Hossain Khan, Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, delivered his Vote of Thanks. Reflecting the lively discussion, he recalled the discussion of all guests including Hijra representatives and hopeful that the recommendations came from the forum will be addressed soon. The honorable Chief Guest Mr. Suranjit Sengupta has ensured to protect the rights of Hijra community from now on. Advocate Tarana Halim, Member of Parliament (MP) as Special guest committed to continue her fight for the marginalized until their Human Rights are ensured. In addition, the inputs from other honorable members need to be acknowledged. Mr. Amjad concluded by expressing his special thanks to colleagues of BSWS and NHRC for their contributions to make the event successful. He finally mentioned that working together towards giving the TG group their rightful facilities and scopes to work; we can surely achieve the desired goal.