Working Barriers for Transgenders in Bangladesh
Transgender is a very familiar word to us all but when it comes to working with them we tend to back out and do not want them working with us at all. Why is this notion on our mind and as well as established in society? And what type of barriers are they facing in the working environment? In this blog, we will be focusing on what our law and constitution have to say about them regarding employment in the workplace.
A summary of their situation regarding employment in our country
Transgender people are mainly called ‘Hijra’ in Bangladesh. They are the most vulnerable group in society. They face violence, discrimination, and hostile behaviour from people in every sphere of their life. The policy gap is one of the main grounds that is becoming an obstacle for transgender employment rights. There is no determined policy regarding their employment and no clarification even mentioned anywhere or by the state on how they will contribute to society. Educational status is very low among transgender people due to people’s negligence, institution, and policies. In an interview conducted by Human Rights Watch in October 2017 of transgenders, the majority of them told the interviewee that even if they attend school they face bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, and also sometimes physical abuse for their appearances or behaviour, even many were ousted from school when their gender identity was revealed. Lack of education is another main ground for not having access to the job sector. On this exact ground, strict policies should be taken and implemented because our constitution guarantees us free and compulsory education according to Article-17. Though the state and society both are miserably failing when it comes to guaranteeing the education of transgender people whereas they should be guaranteed equal access to education just like any other normal people. Even in Bangladesh workplaces, the employment of transgender people leads a transgender person to undergo discrimination and exploitation in the workplace.
A positive Glimpse of International Scenario regarding Transgenders
Now let’s explore some international circumstances around the world. In 2007, Nepal was the first country in this region to acknowledge the third gender category. In the case of Pant V. Nepal of the Nepal Supreme Court, the decision was confirmed and it is considered as the most comprehensive judgment affirming protections for gender identity anywhere in the world. Within 2 years, in the year 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered that the government should officially acknowledge a separate gender for the Pakistani Hijra Community which includes transgenders, transvestites, eunuchs and it is also issued that inheritance rights of Hijras should be enforced. The Supreme Court of India in 2014 guaranteed the population rights, equal access to education and employment rights to the nation’s transgenders. In Thailand, transgender people are employed as a salesperson which means their government is giving them employment opportunity to them and showing the world that they can contribute to the society just like any other person. Some countries even now conducting sex-reassignment surgery such as they either become fully male or fully female. According to CNN, Argentina and Denmark have a progressive approach towards gender recognition the most. Though this should not be the solution one should not change their identity just because they are transgender unless they want to without any pressure or being forced. But there are some countries or region which provides clear-cut protection for transgender individuals. For instance, On May 17, 2016, Canada established national legislation prohibiting transgender discrimination. Even in every province of Canada transgender discrimination is strictly prohibited. In the United Kingdom, transgender discrimination has been unlawful since 1999 and Australia has outlawed transgender discrimination in its Sex Discrimination Act. Both Spain and the United Kingdom has allowed transgenders without the sex-reassignment surgery to change their names and gender designation on official documents.
First legal step for Transgenders in Bangladesh
In November 2013 Bangladesh took an official decision to acknowledge third gender or third sex which was approved in Government’s cabinet meeting presided over by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This was the first official step, even in the year 2014 the Hijra Community celebrated the first pride parade in the country and the banners they were holding stated, “The days of Stigma, Discrimination and Fear are over” but after that, there is no such mention of any other pride parade on later years. The community of Transgender people are enlisted voters in our country now, even in the national documents such as Passport or NID holds a separate category for them. The international legal bodies even state equal opportunity of employment to all kinds of people. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states every person has the right to work and free choice of employment and to have favourable conditions of work and protection against employment and also every person should have full rights to equal pay for equal work. Article -06 of ICESCR ( International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights) also states the Right to Work. Even though the international legal bodies or organizations guarantee equal opportunity, transgender people are being neglected in almost every country of the world.
However, it is still a very unwelcoming situation in the workplace or anywhere for transgender people in Bangladesh. The policy must change to ensure equal rights for them. There are almost more than 2,00,000 transgender people in our country, and there are no specific rules or policies. Article -23A of the Constitution mentions the culture of tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities but there is no specific mention of transgenders. A table is given below which shows the quota scheme of vulnerable groups in the formal job sectors of Bangladesh:
|Vulnerable/ Excluded Groups
|Freedom Fighter’s Children and Grandchildren
Source: The Daily Star (The Daily Star Newspaper), 15th February 2018
Even in almost every formal job sectors, there is no mention of transgender people and also the quota system in the government sector does not have any separate quota for them. According to the recent national budget for the 2021-22 financial year, the Finance Minister proposed special tax incentives to companies or working institutions to those who will employ third-genders. This is a welcoming change without any doubt, but my question lies: why will they have special incentives, doesn’t our constitution give us the right to Equality of opportunity according to Article-19 of the constitution and Equality of opportunity in public employment according to Article- 29 of the constitution which means the third gender and also a citizen of Bangladesh, will also enjoy these rights according to our constitution. From a very early period to till now they are facing stigmatization and the highest level of discrimination. They still feel unsafe and unwelcome at work. People do not behave with them properly in worst-case scenarios people even behave better with animals rather than the Hijra community. These sufferings of transgenders lead to denial in families and societies and such deprival leads to a crime such as:- Chadabaji, hijacking etc. They turn themselves into committing violence and other heinous activities to make a space in society and to survive in this cruel world. Moreover, these groups of people are denied their rights in various sectors of society such as health, security, housing etc. Though Article-32 of our Constitution states protection of the right to life and personal liberty but transgenders are facing discrimination on asking their rights even.
Shades of light rising among transgenders in Bangladesh
Amidst all the negative situations there are some affirmative situations as well. For instance, in the history of Bangladesh, it is the first time transgender people who identify themselves as a woman have granted to run the Awami League party ballot for the 50 reserved seats in Parliament. There is no exact provision that prevents members of the transgender community from running for the seats of parliament. Among the 8 transgender candidates who are running for the seats in the parliament, one of them stated that there is no representation of them in parliament and there should be someone their own who represents the whole community of transgender and what type of violence and hostility they are facing should be known to people and the government, and from this concern, they are running seats in the parliament.
Moreover, Bangladesh has elected its first transgender councillor in a rural Bangladeshi town Kotchandpur and it created a positive impact for other trans people and inspired them that they can bring a change in the society and mindset of people. There are now events such as Trans people are opening a parlour and trying to make an honest living and people are accepting their services and also the latest news about a transgender which has stirred in the society is the debut of Tashnuva Anan Shishir as a TV anchor.
To Conclude, changes are occurring but a massive change is still needed for them and their survival in society as human being. Yet, many changes and clarifications are still needed in the legislative and judicial sector to secure the fundamental rights of the transgender community. The employment policies should be revised and changed as well. They still face ostracism in their everyday lives. Although they are now gaining legislative protection laws, these laws still cannot save or protect them from the social stigma and risks they face. It is high time they should live in society just like any other human being without any fear of being judged, discrimination, hostile behaviour, social stigma and any other kind of obstructive behaviour.
- The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1972.
- Azadeh Ansari, Transgender Rights, February 23 (2017)
- Human Rights Watch (2017), Bangladesh: Transgender men fear for their safety.
- MD. Liton Hossen (2019), Challenges of Right to Employment faced by transgender hijra in Bangladesh.
- Fisher Phillips, International Protections for transgender employees. (June 23, 2016)
- Abir Abbas Chowdhury, Advancement of Transgender’s Rights. ( March 8, 2015)
- Tax Rebate for Bangladeshi companies hiring Transgender people. ( June 4, 2021)
- Transgender Councillor elected in Bangladesh first. ( October 15, 2019)
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
- International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1976