The government is going to offer a 5% corporate tax waiver to companies in the upcoming budget for creating jobs for third gender persons.
To avail the tax exemption benefit, business entities will have to employ at least 100 members of this community – who are also known as Hijras in Bangladesh – for a year, according to senior officials at the finance ministry.
The National Board of Revenue has made the proposal to mainstream transgender people by bringing about a change in people's mindset about third gender persons who face discrimination and are marginalised in society.
Currently, there is no financial benefit on offer for businesses that employ Hijras.
Entrepreneurs, sociologists and third gender community leaders have lauded the government's move to provide the tax cut on condition of hiring third gender people.
They hope such an initiative will be helpful to break the social stigma about the community as well as empower them.
Dhaka University Professor Khondoker Mokaddem Hossain of the Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies told The Business Standard that offering the incentive for employers to create jobs for third gender people is absolutely a good initiative.
Generally, Hijras are neglected in society and face discrimination. The move will also help ensure their social inclusion, he added.
"If anyone lags behind socioeconomically, they do not have any social acceptance," said Mokaddem.
According to the Ministry of Social welfare, there are now about 11,000 Hijras in Bangladesh.
According to third gender community leaders and Bandhu Social Welfare Society officials, a number of transgender people are currently working in the apparel and fashion industry as operators, merchandisers and other officials, some are working in the leather goods manufacturing industry as operators, some are working as security personnel in private universities, some are involved with non-government organisations.
Besides, a good number of them have become entrepreneurs, while some work in the service sector – fast food courts and beauty parlours.
Two transgender women are working as media professionals. One of them is Tashnuva Anan Shishir, the first transgender news presenter in Bangladesh.
Mostafiz Uddin, managing director at the Denim Expert Limited, a Chattogram-Karnaphuli EPZ based denim maker, is a pioneer in employing third gender persons in a garment factory.
"We have to do it as a social responsibility and create an example so others can follow it," Mostafiz said.
"But it was not an easy job for me, we had planned to employ at least 15 people but we found nine interested in doing jobs in the apparel industry," he said.
Every entrepreneur has a similar responsibility to his society. If anyone carries out that, they will definitely be rewarded, Mostafiz opined.
The World Economic Forum has given recognition to Mostafiz Uddin for his contribution to social inclusion.
"Transgender people are not like other people. They need some extra care for their mainstreaming. Besides, other employees also need counselling to break the social stigma," he added.
Shumi, a hijra working as an assistant safety officer at Denim Expert Limited, said, "I am very proud of myself as I have an identity and a decent job."
Rose, another hijra, has been serving as an assistant merchandiser for the last two years at Ze Projects, a concern of Fashion-Theory Limited, a France-based buying house.
The company has employed three transgender people, Rose said adding, "My responsibility is to ensure sourcing from eight garment factories. As a transgender person, it is a challenging job for me. I have a dream to reach a senior position in merchandising trade which will be trailblazing for my community."
On the other hand, a number of transgender people are becoming entrepreneurs by setting up fast food shops and beauty parlours in Ashulia, Savar and Badda area in Dhaka.
Shammi, a transgender entrepreneur, has employed five people from her community in two of her beauty parlours in Ashulia.
Shammi said it is very tough to get social acceptance. Firstly, everyone was hesitant to get their service. Gradually, they have got acceptance through their services.
She also welcomed the government's initiative to create job opportunities for the transgender community.
"I think employers will give priority to transgender people, considering their willingness and skills, not education, as we are lagging behind in proper education," said Shammi.
"If the government mentions us as the third gender then that creates the impressions that some are a superior citizen and we are third grade - it should be transgender," Boishakhi television news presenter Tashnuva Anan Shishir said adding that the government has taken a good initiative, but it will be better if an initiative is taken to create some government jobs for this community.
She further explained that there are some posts like cleaners, office assistants and computer operators in government offices. The government can offer such jobs to them.
"To mainstream the third gender people, there is a need for more sensitisation among people to create awareness about transgender people," opined Shishir, also a master's student at Brac University.
Talking about the government's move to create jobs for Hijras, Shale Ahmed, executive director of Bandhu Social Welfare Society, an NGO working for the transgender community since 1996, said, "It will be a milestone to move forward for social inclusion of the transgender community,"
If the government gives a tax waiver for employing transgender people that may help to break the social stigma and create a positive mindset about them, he added.
He also mentioned the government had given them a hijra gender identity in 2003.