Bangladesh’s transgender community seeks integration

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 4 March 2016

As development practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders surge forward to help lift the urban poor out of poverty, many marginalized groups go unnoticed, largely due to the stigma attached to them in this region. Focusing on the marginalized and stigmatized, Light House, an NGO operating in Bangladesh, works to provide HIV prevention services to men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people, called hijra in Bengali – a huge challenge, primarily because they are a hidden population and society would much rather keep it that way.

Owing to the lack of reliable statistics and information on this population, the Government of Bangladesh took an initiative to find data on rough counts of MSM and transgender people, with both country-wide and division reports. The number, presumably underestimated, of MSM was found to be over 50,000 men in Dhaka. These statistics might show the target population to be a very small part of the total population but it needs greater attention from the government as well as non-state actors because we do not know how many more there are, hidden and suffering.

Light House acknowledges the low rates of condom usage in sexual accounts of this population, and the potential risk of the spread of HIV and AIDS to the entire population. Many of the MSMs are married and also have sex with their wives, which only widens the potential for the spread of infection – and to an unknowing population. The key component of the project is to select and train peer educators from the target population itself to make sure that the outreach is effective. This methodology also works to ensure their access to public health services, legal aid support and behavior change from society so that the impact of the project sustains, all in line with the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS 2010-2015. Those who attended workshops and seminars were counseled and provided with condoms and much-needed sex education.

This month’s topic for urb.im, "Cities for All," is the underlying idea for the Providing HIV Prevention Services with MSM and Transgender (Hijra) in Bangladesh project by Light House – it aims to work for the better health of a hidden and underserved population and provide them with access to the basic health rights that they are entitled to, regardless of their sex, gender and occupation. This is a very challenging initiative because it is difficult to find and work with people who have accepted being ostracized from the society and locked themselves up behind doors. However, in light of all the global talk on human rights, this is much needed and has great potential.

Photo: Nick Kenrick

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