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Realising SRHR for Young Bangladeshis, Part 8: Of Gender Expression

May 11, 2018 Good (10)

This post is the final part in a series of eight stories by young Bangladeshis that illustrates the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the youth-led CSO report for Bangladesh’s Universal Periodic Review. These stories were collected by ARROW and Dance4Life. Photo is used for representation only. Read the first part here, second part here, third part here,  fourth part here, fifth part here, sixth part here, and the seventh part here

Foysal is a 21-year-old individual who identifies as either male or agender, and his gender expression is androgynous. He was born female to a conservative middle-class family in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Ever since he started to connect to the world outside of his home and began schooling, he has felt like he does not fit in with the rest of society. As per the social rules of gender segregation in schools, he had to choose which gender he wanted to sit with on the first day of schools. It was confusing to him because he was more comfortable socialising and being friends with the boys than the girls. However, his romantic interests were girls, which was even more confusing to him. He knew that the female gender identity which the world has stamped on him did not feel right. It was not him.

As Foysal continued growing up, he became increasingly aware of his bodily changes. He did not at all welcome it when his body began to show signs of female characteristics. Because of this he developed body dysphoria. At the end of his teenage years, he managed to purchase binders for his chest, and he began to use it regularly. He started dating women, and even then, he faced barriers as straight girls were not comfortable with his gender identity. To be more specific, they did not even understand the concept of being a transgender man or agender.

Foysal’s gender expression raised many questions both at home and in public. Because even as he identified himself as a transgender man or agender, he was still subjected to the prevalent objectification that women face due to his sex. His parents wanted him to dress look feminine, and the public called him names and teased him because of his gender expression. According to them, a girl should look like a girl. He now stays at a student hostel, and even his room-mates, who are female, have expressed discomfort at being around him.

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The government of Bangladesh gave legal recognition to the long-marginalised hijra population by officially acknowledging the community as the ‘hijra sex’ in 2014, but did not provide a definition of transgendered persons. The absence of a legal definition has led to abuses in the implementation of the legal change regarding recognition of hijras. The recognition builds on the sole interpellation of the hijra as a special group of ‘disabled’ people with genital defects or missing or ambiguous genitals; as a result, transgendered candidates under the government employment programme were denied employment on account of not qualifying as hijra when, after being subjected to humiliating medical examinations, it was found that they had male genitalia. Instead, they were accused of “impersonating” hijras. In the absence of a rights-based procedure for the legal recognition of the hijra community and other transgendered persons, they remain vulnerable to violations of their human rights.

Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR

The government needs to provide a clear, inclusive and dignified definition in the law of what constitutes the ‘third gender’ and also clarify the distinction between ‘intersex’ and ‘transgender’ and other gender identities, by enacting legislation that protects and promotes the fundamental rights of individuals with diverse gender identities, through consultations with the hijra community, the transgender population, intersex persons, SRHR experts, human rights activists and NGOs, and by taking their recommendations into account.

They also need to ensure that the procedures for third gender recognition allow individuals the freedom to identify themselves and are not contingent on the fulfilment of medical check-ups and verifications. Section 377 of the Penal Code 1860 also needs to be reformed to decriminalise non-normative consensual sexual acts, to put an end to stigma, discrimination, harassment and violence against persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Conclusions

Ten years down the line, Foysal wants to have gender reassignment surgery done so that he can fully overcome his body dysphoria and feel that his body is more aligned with his gender. Currently Foysal is concerned about the constant pain in his chest, due to wearing binders without any supervision or advise from doctors. He wishes he could go to a sensitised doctor and share the issues he is facing. Foysal strongly believes that he will get better treatment outside of Bangladesh but he currently cannot afford it.

Foysal wonders if transgender men will ever receive similar social and legal recognition to the transgender women belonging to the hijra community. Foysal believes that gender should be taught as a separate subject and as part of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools to encourage an inclusive culture and society that is tolerant and embraces gender diversity.

UPR Bangladesh

ARROW collaborated with the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh Platform (RHRN-BD) and the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to submit a youth-led CSO report in October 2017 for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR. The report focused on the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh. For the first time in the country’s UPR process, a CSO report has been developed through engagement of young Bangladeshis through a collective process. Read the report here!

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