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Bangladesh adds ‘hijra’ gender option to voting forms

Bangladesh adds ‘hijra’ gender option to voting forms

The Bangladesh Election Commission has added a third gender of ‘hijra’ to its electoral enrolment forms.

Hijra is the term used by people in South Asia who were assigned male at birth but present in their daily lives as women. Some of the community identify as trans and/or intersex, while other identify as the third gender, also known as hijra.

The Election Commission’s move came more than four years after hijra was officially recognized as a third gender by the Bangladeshi government.

When enrolling to vote people will now be able to choose male, female or third gender on the form.

The decision was made at an Election Commission meeting on 27 December. It was prompted by the attempt of trans woman Nadira Begum to run for office in local council elections. Unfortunately Begum lost her election earlier in the week.

‘However, it is necessary to amend the existing law and regulations to include hijras as a gender identity alongside men and women on the voter information gathering list,’ the Election Commission said in a statement.

According to Bangladesh’s Social Welfare Ministry about 10,000 hijras live in the country.

Hijra life

Despite the bureaucratic progress for third gender rights in Bangladesh, the community still faces extremely high levels of discrimination and violence.

A 2016 Human Rights Watch report found there was a lot of confusion about who can identify as hijra.

Bangladesh also does not have a policy outlining the measures people must take to legally change the gender on their official documents. HRW also found there was no clarity about who qualifies as a hijra.

‘Officials involved in implementing the hijra circular have acted on their personal understandings of what hijra means,’ the HRW said at the time.