“Why are we excluded?": UNFPA distributes dignity kits to transgender women in Bangladesh following disastrous flooding

Transgender advocate Ananya launched the "Shopner Chowa Shomajkollan Sangstha" group to empower transgender individuals through business skills instruction. ©️ UNFPA Bangladesh/Prince Naymuzzaman
  • 16 May 2023

NETROKONA/SUNAMGANJ, Bangladesh – “During the flood, everyone in my village ran to seek shelter,” Ananya, a transgender woman, told UNFPA in 2022. “But we were not allowed to stay at the same shelter.” 

Around the world, discriminatory laws, norms and practices lead to rights violations and violence against LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) people. In many countries – more than one third around the globe – same-sex relationships are illegal, and most countries lack enabling policies for transgender and non-binary persons to change their legal gender.

In Bangladesh, transgender people have been formally recognized as part of a "third gender" category since 2014. And the government aims to provide this marginalized group with additional social protection and services. But challenges remain in the gap between policy and implementation, with service providers and the public subjecting this community, known locally as hijra, to harassment and harm.

These factors and others drive the exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people from society. In the aftermath of devastating flooding in Bangladesh’s northeastern region last year, Ananya’s identity as a transgender woman led to her separation from the rest of her village. 

“Are we not human beings, and are we not affected by disasters?” Ananya said. “If so, then why are we excluded?"

A global reckoning

In many parts of the world, LGBTQIA+ rights have been on the march in recent decades. In 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to recognize same-sex marriages; 24 countries now do so. More than 50 permit same-sex couples to adopt children.

But these hard-won advances and others have come increasingly under threat. Recent research indicates last year was the most violent on record for lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex people in Europe and Central Asia. And according to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic enabled a “context conducive to increased persecution" for LGBTQIA+ individuals, with hate speech on the rise.

UNFPA aims to deliver a world where all 8 billion individuals on earth, in all their diversity, can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The agency supports LGBTQIA+ people around the world through initiatives such as psychosocial counselling for gender non-conforming people in Jamaica, sexuality education in Myanmar, and pilot programming for HIV self-test kits in Timor-Leste.

In Bangladesh, the agency has distributed emergency cash assistance for transgender people, organized group psychosocial support sessions and coordinated conversations between local administrators, service providers and the transgender community to accelerate service delivery during crises.

Ananya has worked since 2017 to lift up the voices of LGBTQIA+ people and ensure they are not silenced. That year, she founded an advocacy group called "Shopner Chowa Shomajkollan Sangstha” (the “Dream Touch Social Welfare Society”) to empower transgender individuals through business skills instruction. More than 400 transgender people have participated in Ananya’s group.

Dignity in crisis 

In 2022, UNFPA supported the implementation of a landmark project in Bangladesh’s Netrokona, Sunamganj and Sylhet districts, which aimed to address the sexual and reproductive health-care needs of women and transgender people following the floods. 

Together with partners, UNFPA distributed more than 16,000 dignity kits to flood-affected women and transgender people, ensuring recipients were able to access basic hygiene supplies such as soap, towels and slippers. Transgender volunteers distributed many of the kits, which also contained torchlights, shaving kits,  mosquito nets and referral information for instances of gender-based violence.

“For us transgender people, life gets even more difficult during a crisis,” Ananya said. "It's not often that someone thinks of us." 


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