Hijras take to Dhaka catwalk in unique awareness campaign

Wed, Aug 19th, 2009 1:00 am BdST

By Fahmida Wadud Chaity

Dhaka, Aug 18 (bdnews24.com)—The audience at a show titled “Agony and Ecstasy,” at the National Museum on Tuesday, were treated to a unique event as Hijras took to the catwalk in a fashion show as part of the programme’s aim to to sensitise the larger community on transgender issues.

The programme, also aiming to create awareness about the risks of HIV/AIDS and drug-use, was organised by the Bandhu Social Welfare Society, which works for the wellbeing of the socially excluded “males and their partners” through the provision of sexual health services, support of their human rights and alternate livelihoods.

Shale Ahmed, executive director of BSWS told bdnews24.com, “They are regularly stigmatised in many ways, which harm their self esteem. They tend to think they are useless. They feel isolated and excluded.”

“This particular programme is a part of our protest against the stigma. It is an effort to make the community feel empowered.”

The fashion show aimed to showcase the Hijra/transgender sense of fashion and style. Their vivid make overs, performance and attitude on the catwalk expressed self-belief and appeal.

“We wanted to give them a sense of empowerment, so that they can feel they too can contribute in the society.”

People from all walks of society attended the “dazzling event”. Tisa, a trendy young member of the audience, said, “I really liked it. It is amazing to think that a Hijra fashion show can take place in Bangladesh.”

The chance to perform in a glitzy fashion show, at the National Museum auditorium, in front of a diverse audience will certainly boost the Hijras’ confidence and at the same time sensitise people about their issues, Shale said.

Asked if BSWS had any intention to promote ‘Hijra culture’ in the larger community, he said, “We are in exactly in the process of doing that. Bringing many of them together from different parts of Bangladesh was very difficult. They were scattered before coming under our umbrella.”

“But those who were interested to work for their own community, we gave them the chance by setting up their own centres.”

The centres, named Shustho Jibon (Healthy Life), are managed by the Hijras themselves. BSWS’s role is to provide logistical support.

The Hijras, who find few opportunities to make a living outside the sex trade, gain self-esteem, vocational and life skills training such as sewing and dancing, as well as information on the risks of drug-use, HIV/AIDS and other STDs through the centres.

Speaking of society’s prevailing attitude to this marginalised and stigmatised community, Shala said, “The way they are, they are. It is not a matter of right or wrong. It is our problem that we cannot accept them.”

BSWS envisions a society where every person, irrespective of their gender and sexuality preferences, is accepted as equal.

Twenty-eight year-old Payel, who took to the catwalk that evening, said, “I am so happy to be here and taking part in the fashion show.”

Payel, who joined Shustho Jibon 11 years ago, said, “We are working for our own well-being and human rights.” She said they also try to check HIV/ AIDS and other STDs within their community.

“I have gained confidence joining Shustho Jibon, and of course after taking part in this show tonight!”

None of Payel’s family came to cheer her on the catwalk but, on a personal note, she told bdnews24.com that her family did keep in touch with her.

Payel is lucky. Many Hijras are disowned by their own families. “Initially it was tough to convince my family about my activities and our community. But now they are fine with it,” she said.

“I am what I am from the day I came out from my mother’s womb. There was nothing to do about it, but to accept it,” said Payel.

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Filed under Bandhu BSWS, Bangladesh LGBT events, Bangladesh Trans Issues, Media-Indian Subcontinent

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