Bangladesh Adds Third Gender Option to Voter Forms

Bangladesh’s government announced that it would create a third option for gender on its voting list forms. Previously the only two options were checking the “male” or “female” box. As a result of this government decision, now people will be able to choose male, female, or third gender on the form.

“The new amendment in the Voting List Law is truly an inspiration for this underprivileged group to live with new hope,” said Shale Ahmed, the executive director of Bandhu (meaning “Friend”), an NGO that works on behalf of  hijras in Bangladesh.

Hijra is a term used in South Asia to refer to people who were male at birth, but identify as female. Some of them identify as transgender or intersex, while others prefer the term third gender, regionally known as hijra. In the Indian subcontinent, hijra culture is thousands of years old. In Bangladesh, hijras have 200 years of rich history. They have different code words and maintain own a closed society, and consider themselves a bit different than the Western concept of transgender.

Bangladesh’s largely Muslim society is fairly conservative; being neglected and looked down on is a fact of life for many hijra. The last few decades have been critical for the group, as societal changes have raised new challenges. A lack of government recognition was a particular stumbling block, allowing hijras to be taken advantage of.

After a long, slow but steady movement, the group won its first recognition from the state in 2013. It was then announced that the right to vote with a hijra identity would be accommodated soon, but it took almost four years to bring about the necessary changes to the law. Read more via the Diplomat