52-year-old Dithi Khatun, the 1st transgender councilor of Kalaroa Municipality, is a shining example of social inclusion within the political system of Bangladesh. Dithi is one of many transgender people who faced exclusion, discrimination, disapproval and was often a victim of hate crime and violence in society. Dithi Khatun’s hometown is in City College Para, Jashore District. She has 4 brothers and 3 sisters. At the age of 15, Dithi Khatun left the house at her own will and went to Guruma (A Bengali term use to represent mother of a transgender person) in her area. She used to earn her livelihood through performing rituals, dance and sing at weddings, and give blessings to new-born babies. After living there for 12 years, Guruma sent her to Kalaroa as a Malik Sardar (Leader) for 10 transgender people. She now lives there with her husband and 2 adopted girls. Her daughters are studying, and she is involved in social work.
When she moved to Kalaroa, she became Malik Sardar (Leaders for transgender people) first. Later, she was invited in WAI-WASH SDG Programme through different activities from Uttaran and Hope for the Poorest (local implementing partners). She took leadership training, started attending WASH Committee Meetings and visiting households to understand the needs of community people and to disseminate knowledge that she gained from WASH committee meetings. Through attending these activities, she got encouraged to be part of decision-making processes. She felt comfortable, held a leading position within the WASH Committee and learned about WASH issues more.
“In the WASH Committees there are no gender and socio-economic discrimination. Everyone gets an equal opportunity to share problems and provide recommendations in these meetings -Says Dithi Khatun”
She has the capability of connecting with people strongly and people gradually started accepting and respecting her more in WASH meetings due her cordial nature. Previously, transgender people were not allowed to participate in elections. But on 11 November 20132, Bangladesh government has officially recognised “Hijra/transgender Community” as separate gender and reserved 50 seats3 to run for election among 350 exclusively for women. This was a huge step towards removing socio-economic barriers, free from discrimination of health, housing, and education for transgender people in Bangladesh.
Along with the recognition, attending the WASH committee meetings, getting love and support from community people; Dithi was inspired and confident to run for the election at Kalaroa Municipality in 2020. With huge success, she became the councilor of ward 7, 8, and 9 with popular votes. Afterwards, she became the Vice-President of the Ward Level Coordination Committee (WLCC) and voiced the importance of clean water, adequate sanitation, and proper hygiene practices among all. After Dithi became the Vice President of WASH Committee, she has been playing an active role in disseminating the WASH knowledge among people in her ward. During COVID-19 she has also supported people by distributing relief materials. She believes that people are developing a positive attitude towards gender equality and social inclusion.
Another transgender person, Kulsoom Khatun, got inspired by Dithi and ran for election in Jhaudanga Union. Kulsoom also got elected as the member of Union Parishad (the designation of Union Parishad Member is same as the Municipality Councilor). Dithi Khatun supported Kulsoom in her election campaign.
From the national recognition to local, Dithi is now an example of trans leader for many others. Dithi will ensure other transgender members in WASH committees to play a part in providing WASH services for excluded people and take leadership in contributing towards achieving SDG-6 in Bangladesh.
Credit: Simavi and Uttaran