Even in today’s world of rainbow flags and inclusivity acronyms becoming longer and longer, being transgender is no cakewalk, more often, it seems like a catwalk gone wrong with a rather hostile audience, on a daily basis. Jeans maker Denim Expert Ltd. in Chittagong, Bangladesh wants to change that and has been hiring transgender employees, aided by sexual minorities campaigning organisation Bandhu Social Welfare Society.
“After talking to Bandhu, it became obvious to me that integration is key,” said Denim Expert’s founder and CEO Mostafiz Uddin about the empowerment initiative. “Members of the transgender community must be given the opportunity to find gainful employment and in doing so, contribute to society and to the nation as a whole.”
Since September 2018 and as the first company in Bangladesh to take steps towards transgender inclusion, Denim Expert has been hiring from Bangladesh’s 10,000 member strong transgender community with the help of Bandhu, which was established in 1996. This has changed many lives.
“Having joined the company, I feel more respected by society,” said Dilruba Akther who is working as a junior supervisor in the housekeeping team. The gainful employment has also improved things with her family. “Before I joined Denim Expert Ltd., my family disrespected me and did not communicate with me but now we have regular contact.”
Because of their marginalisation in society, transgenders do not have many means to make a living apart from begging on the streets or worse. Organisations like Bandhu encourage them to pick up skills and stand their ground when applying for jobs.
“I feel proud that I am now an employee in the Bangladesh garment sector. The job has brought honour to my life and I no longer have to rely on the charity of others,” said Shima Akthar who was hired at Denim Expert as a junior safety assistant on the production floor in 2018.
The integration of members of the transgender community into the garment industry has added diversity and much needed employment to a stigmatised section of the nation’s population. Since then, Denim Expert’s efforts have been recognised: The company received an Alternative Livelihood Award from the Bandhu Social Welfare Society in 2019 and was named a “New Champion” by the World Economic Forum in 2020.