Bangladesh defends textbook ‘promoting’ trans rights

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

DHAKA: Bangladesh´s government defended on Monday new school textbooks for millions of pupils, after Islamist groups staged protests saying they “promoted” gender transitioning and homosexuality.

Hundreds demonstrated in the capital Dhaka last week demanding that the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) scrap the changes, in the books for children aged between 11 and 13.

One section of the new history and social science book narrates the story of a child called Sharif who transitions, takes the female name Sharifa and goes to live with other transgender people.

Responding to the criticism, NCTB official Mohammad Mashiuzzaman said the textbooks reflected a softening of attitudes and changes in the legal status of transgender people in Bangladesh, and would encourage more understanding. “We´ve included the topic of transgender people because they are a neglected part of our society. Often, they are ousted from their homes,” Mashiuzzaman told AFP.

“This textbook writing about transgender people is to mainstream them.” In 2014, the Bangladeshi government allowed people to identify themselves as belonging to a third gender, and it has in recent years given them broader rights in areas such as housing and higher education.

Several Islamic clerics have even issued decrees declaring them part of the country´s Muslim mainstream. Several trans people have contested and won local elections. The conservative Muslim-majority country´s roughly 1.5 million transgender people have long faced discrimination and violence, however, and often turn to begging, the sex trade and crime.

“The authority tried to promote homosexuality in a chapter in the name of transgender inclusion in textbooks,” Mufti Faizullah, general secretary of Islamist party Islami Oikya Jote told AFP. Others said they were concerned about children learning about transgender people at a young age. “Being a transgender isn´t determined by birth. It´s a choice,” said Shariful Islam Riyad, head of the Islami Chhatra Andolon (Islami Student Movement).