Bangladesh's marginalised transgender community has finally been granted the right to use their correct identity to register as a voter. Government officials have given full recognition to the hijras eleccultural status by creating a specialist "third gender" category on Bangladesh's national voters list.
Previously, the hijra community could only sign up to vote as men or women – but many avoided doing so because they did not feel adequately represented. Now, individuals can register to vote using their own identity as a hijra. Government estimates say there are around 10,000 hijra in the country although the Bandhan Hijra Singha, a transgender rights group, states that the figure is actually around 100,000.
The existence of hijras has been documented as far back as 400 BC and they are also referenced in the Indian Kama Sutra text. Historically, they enjoyed a semi-sacred status in Bangladesh and earned their living by singing and dancing at social celebrations like weddings. They were even invited to bless married couples and newborn babies. However, over time, attitudes towards the group soured and they have become marginalised within Bangladeshi society, excluded from cultural, religious, political and professional life.
Many live in poverty due to a lack of employment opportunities, according to a United Nations Development Programme book, and are forced to make a living from begging or working in the sex industry. Other hijra have revealed that they are routinely refused medical care by doctors or the opportunity to rent property from landlords. Read more via Telegraph