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OP-ED: Free Bangladesh from gender prejudices

  • Published at 03:14 pm April 9th, 2021
transgender cisgender

We no longer want to fit into little boxes

When I was born in the mid-1960s and was growing up through the 70s and 80s, no one in my country talked about gender equality. At least, the call for equality didn’t reach me and my contemporaries. 

Maybe, one or two non-governmental organizations had begun their work, in post-independent Bangladesh, to better the lives of women of the country. At the same time, they also might have started promoting the concept of gender equality in this country.

But the message certainly didn’t reach me till the advent of the 90s.

It was then I realized I, my brother, and my father, all males by birth, belonged to the First Gender. My mother and sister belonged to the Second Gender. 

The realization wasn’t a discovery; it was a question: “Why?” Why didn’t my mother and sisters belong to the First Gender? What was gender, to be honest? Why should we have terms like First and Second Gender?

Innocent questions?

I lived with the gender riddle and, maybe, just maybe, accepted the norms and regulations of our state that classifies humans in terms of gender.

When I and a woman got involved in a matrimony, the gender thought didn’t go away. Did my partner belong to the Second Gender? Having been born with the hormones of a male, why am I called a member of the First Gender? Why was she the Second?

And, of late, we have added another gender -- the Third Gender. It has come as a great solace that our state has finally recognized the transgender population, who have been treated as non-entities, outcasts who were meant to languish and finally pass away as anonymous. 

Finally, we have woken up the cause and have been trying to create an environment to include trans people into society. 

I thank Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the initiatives led by her. Last year in November, she said trans persons of Bangladesh would soon be able to inherit property from their families. The laws were being drafted.

Let us also thank the company Pathao Food -- along with Apex -- that has recruited 50 trans persons in its delivery fleet. Earlier, we also came to know that superstore Shwapno had employed trans persons in its sales team. There are many other companies that are currently seriously considering to recruit them in their businesses.

I consider myself quite fortunate to work in an organization, Brac Bank, which has recently organized an internal seminar by inviting broadcaster Tashnuva Anan Shishir. We wanted to shape the minds of our people before starting to employ trans persons in our fleet.

What Shishir told us was something we never heard about trans persons. Our society only accepts the male and the female, not the trans. For a long time, we allowed the transpersons to rot as untouchables. The seminar was an eye-opener for many of us who have already started to think normally about trans persons.

According to an estimate, Bangladesh has about 10,000 trans people, which according to Shishir, wasn’t true. We actually haven’t done any proper census on them. Now that we have realized that they are also human beings, I believe the time has also come to run a proper survey on them.

As I thank all stakeholders involved for including trans population into the mainstream, a bone of contention remains in my mind regarding this gender issue.

I believe terming a male member of the society as the First Gender and a female member as the Second Gender is a humiliation of our own selves. I want to live in a Bangladesh where our women are equal to us, not inferior humans. I want to live in a state where the administration is courageous to abolish the “gender” columns in all forms, applications, and passports.

Yes, you heard me right. We the citizens of Bangladesh don’t want to be evaluated in terms of gender; rather, our qualifications need to be the prime focus. We don’t want to remain cocooned in the gender boxes any more.

Let’s free ourselves as humans. This may be my innocent and wishful hope, but I’m sure my hope will have a long-term impact on my society that I dream of. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works are available on ekramkabir.com.

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