India’s estimated 700,000 hijras, or transgender women, generally get little or no schooling, their families often reject them, and they join marginalized and feudal communities where their employment options are sex work or ritualized begging. They are likely to die young, of violence – like Anil Sadanandan, a transgender activist murdered in Kerala state during my recent visit to India – or AIDS. They are among India’s most destitute women, yet they are ignored by the World Bank, despite its strong focus on the “gender agenda.”
Dr. Suneeta Singh made that simple yet powerful statement during a panel discussion on “Empowering Gender Minorities in South Asia” on March 14, 2012 at the World Bank. Singh, a former Bank staffer and CEO of consulting firm Amaltas, spoke via videoconference from Delhi, India, while Nepal’s first openly gay elected official, Sunil Babu Pant, dialed in from Kathmandu.
Pant told the story of how he built a grassroots movement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people in Nepal, beginning in 2001. A turning point was in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay and transgendered people “are natural” and mandated certain benefits and an end to discriminatory laws. Today, the country is drafting a new constitution, and Pant said that if passed, it will be one of the most progressive in the world with regard to the rights of sexual and gender minorities.