Mon, Dec 29, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Bangladeshi ‘hijras’ get right to vote for first time

AFP , DHAKA

Bangladeshi hijra social worker Joya Shikder holds her national identity card at her house in Dhaka on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

Among the millions of new voters in today’s Bangladeshi elections will be some 100,000 hijras — cross-dressing, pre and post-operative transsexuals — allowed to cast ballots for the first time.

The male-to-female transsexuals are among 32 percent of the impoverished nation’s 81 million voters for whom participating in the elections, the first since 2001, will be a new experience.

Hijra social worker Joya Shikder, herself a transsexual, said the move spelled a positive change for the conservative Muslim country.

“We’ve always been overlooked in previous elections,” Shikder said. “It’s exciting to be given this recognition but the authorities have stopped short of acknowledging us as a third gender.”

The move to give hijras the vote has been applauded by human rights activists but has caused a headache for Election Commission officials who create separate lines for male and female voters at every polling booth.

“You cannot just class us into men and women by looking at our faces, bodies and expressions,” Shikder said.

Bangladeshi Election Commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman said officials were still trying to figure out exactly how hijras would cast their votes today.

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