Providing employment to Bangladesh’s transgender community is a rocky road

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DHAKA, Nov 21, 2020 (BSS)- The plight of Bithi (a transgender) is a typical example of how in daily life Hijras (transgender) are often the victims of abuse and discrimination.

Bithi has exposed the bitter reality of public prejudice as she could not continue her job at a garment factory for long. She used to work as a helper at the Unibhogh, a garment factory at Chattogram Export Processing Zone (EPZ). Bithi had been able to work there for about three and a half years, but tragedy befell on her as other workers of the factory came to know that Bithi was a transgender. After that no one wanted to work with Bithi and they started abusing her verbally. The situation reached to such an extent that at one point the factory authorities had to sack Bithi. Leaving her job, Bithi went back to her original profession ‘collection’.

Another transgender Shima Akther used to live in Laxmipur along with her siblings. After the death of her father, Shima left the house and took a job at a garment factory named ‘Asian Group’ in C&B area of Chattogram. Shima was also forced to leave her job for the same reason that Bithi faced and she also went back to ‘collection’.

Usually, Hijras are boycotted by their families, society and state. Their own relatives also hide them to cover the so-called shame’, and neglect the truth that they are not responsible for what they are.

The woes of the Hijra community are not hidden from anyone, but still no action has been taken towards providing a sustainable employment or income source for them. They are often left to two choices—to either beg on the streets, or to become sex workers.

But, Denim Export Limited, a garment factory at Karnafuli EPZ in Chattogram, has set the goal of bringing about a paradigm shift for the Hijras.

As part of its plan, the garment factory authority gave appointment to Shima Akther and Dilruba Akther on September 1, 2018. Later, Adury and Bithi joined the factory.

Earlier, an attempt to rehabilitate transgender persons at garment factories in Dhaka failed. But the model of the Denim Export to appoint transgender persons has already been widely applauded at home and abroad.

Terming the Denim Export as the first example of success in rehabilitating transgender in Bangladesh, deputy director of the ‘Bandhu Social Welfare Society’ Md Mashiur Rahman said, earlier a garment factory named ‘Julham Fashion Limited’ took an initiative to create employment opportunity for transgender people, but the move failed.

The Denim Export has set an example in this regard and the environment they have created in their own factory is really exemplary, he added.

Denim Export Limited managing director Mostafiz Uddin said, “One day, I saw in the newspapers that common people had beaten up the transgender people at a place in Dhaka, leaving many of them injured critically. The news hurt me and I conceived the idea of employing many transgender people in my factory. If some of these transgender people can be brought into the mainstream through employment, then it can be an example.”

Nourishing the idea, he started working and communicating with the ‘Bandhu Social Welfare Society’, which started counselling eight transgender persons. At the same time, the Denim Expert Authority focused on creating a rehabilitation environment for the transgender community in its factory.

The factory also conducted a survey among the workers of the factory.
But most of the opinions the survey revealed were negative. Even, some workers threatened that most of the existing workers would leave the factory if any transgender was appointed. But, the garment authority which employs about 1,700 workers, took the risk after encouraging them. The authority tried to dispel misconceptions over the transgender.

Shima Akter said, “I came to the factory on September 1, 2018 before the schedule time. Though there were eight transgender in the counselling, me and Dilruba got the appointment. Some senior bosses introduced us to some workers. But, we saw smiles of contempt on the faces of many. They didn’t even refrain from commenting. We had to pass 8 to 10 days amidst mental anguish.”

But, she said, the attitude of my colleagues began to change gradually.

Shima expressed her gratitude to the managing director of the factory, crediting him with giving her the opportunity.

Mostafiz said there were a lot of risks as the labor movement is very sensitive, especially in the RMG sector.

“But my plan succeeded only for the cooperation of all employees of the factory”, he concluded.