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Transforming humanitarian action for the transgender community

"For the first time in my life, I felt that I was treated like a normal human being."”, says Kajli, a member of the transgender community in Kurigram District, Bangladesh. 

As part of the UN’s efforts to provide relief to vulnerable communities prior to a natural disaster, Kajli received a dignity kit from UNFPA which was specifically designed to meet the needs of the transgender community during humanitarian emergencies.
The kits are packed with basic supplies that enable recipients to take care of their sexual and reproductive health and personal hygiene. Given the ongoing pandemic, the kits also included flashcards with COVID-19 precautionary measures, as well as helplines to report incidents of gender-based violence.
In July 2020, severe flooding of the Jamuna river was forecasted, and  around one third of the area’s population was estimated to be at risk of being affected by the floods. This prompted the Central Emergency Response Fund of the United Nations (UN CERF) coordinated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) to release a $5.2 million emergency grant to UN agencies in Bangladesh, including UNFPA. For the first time, the emergency grant was used to prepare the vulnerable communities for the incoming disaster and not just to respond to the damages and distress of people caused by a disaster.

“The most important items in this kit for me are the cloth, hand sanitizer, and bucket,” Kajli (left) explains.   

It was also the first time that UNFPA specifically designed dignity kits for the transgender community in Bangladesh. 

Although recognized as the third gender since 2013, most of the transgender community - locally known as Hijra community - live in a precarious conditions. Misconceptions and superstitions about these groups of people still exist largely in society. Many of them are not given the opportunity to integrate into wider society and end up living on its margins. Due to the community’s isolated position, their particular needs are often overlooked in decision-making, which further increases their vulnerability to dangers.

I am so happy to see these arrangements for us. After the pandemic, we have been really scattered and we don’t have any income. I didn’t have any money to buy these things. I don’t even have a proper place to live at the moment and the place where I am staying can go underwater any minute,” Kajli explains. 

The tailor-made dignity kits by UNFPA for the transgender community may be a small action, but it makes a big difference. 

Kajli says that receiving the dignity kit for her community is a reassuring sign amidst a very difficult time. In her view, the only way to improve the acceptance of the transgender community is if more actions are taken to specifically to address their needs and concerns.

My only hope is that interventions like this can change the way society thinks and help include us into the mainstream!”, she says with hope for a better future.

With the UN CERF funding and support from the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, UNFPA distributed dignity kits, menstural hygiene and health management kits, and reproductive health kits to over 15,000 women and girls in Bogura, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Jamalpur and Sirajgonj districts, including people of the transgender community. 

This World Humanitarian Day, let’s make sure that we leave no one behind. Everyone deserves protection during emergency situations, today, and everyday.