Prime Minister of Bangladesh Shiekh Hasina announced the addition of a third gender identity option, “Hijra,” on official documents issued by the city at a cabinet meeting on Monday, November 11.
Hijras, which are usually people assigned male at birth who adopt feminine clothing and gender identity, have a long recorded history in South Asia, since the time the infamous Kama Sutra was written, which mentions a “third natured” male.
Hijras challenge western notions of sex and gender; most are born male, though some may be intersex or have gone through feminizing surgeries, and most see themselves as neither men nor women.
The new government policy of Bangladesh, announced November 11, will secure Hijras the right to identify themselves as a separate and distinct gender from the binary norm on all official documents, including passports.
The new legislation has been created with the intention of addressing discrimination faced by the Hijra community in regards to public services.
“There are at least 10,000 hijras in Bangladesh,” Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said.
“They are being denied their rights in various sectors including education, health and housing because of being a marginal group.”
The decision comes just a day after the Center for Health, Law, Ethics and Technology at Jindal Global Law School organized a two-day roundtable discussion, November 9-10, on “Human Rights of the Transgender People, Hijras and Other Gender Non-Normative Gender Groups in India.”
The discussion was attended by participants from seventeen nations, including Nepal and Pakistan, who discussed the legal and social barriers faced by the transgender, Hijra and non-normative gender groups in India.
“There are very few laws and policies for transgender and other non-normative gender groups. Very few states were aware of the number of transgenders, Hijras or other gender non-conforming groups, with some of them noting that they did not have any welfare schemes, laws or policies for transgender, hijras or other gender non-conforming groups,” said Dipika Jain, the university’s executive director for the Centre for Health, Law, Ethics and Technology.
While the new gender option in Bangladesh marks the beginning of a change in attitude towards the queer community of the city, certain antiquated laws are still on the books, such as section 377, a legacy of British rule, which refers to consensual homosexual sex acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” and can be punished by a sentence of life in prison.