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Friday, July 19, 2024

Transgen eyes upset in Bangladesh vote

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A transgender candidate in Bangladesh’s one-sided election has told AFP she is hopeful of an upset victory that would make her a rare opposition voice in parliament after polls close Sunday.

Anwara Islam Rani, 31, has drawn hundreds of people to her rallies since campaigning began last month and believes she has the backing to triumph over a former government minister.

“I have got unbelievably positive responses from the voters,” she told AFP late Friday.

“A win is possible if the vote is free and fair and people can cast their ballot in a peaceful atmosphere.”

But dozens of opposition parties have boycotted Sunday’s election, saying it will be neither free nor fair, with a repeat of the widespread irregularities of previous polls won by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The ruling Awami League has not fielded candidates in Rani’s constituency and a small number of other seats, an apparent effort to avoid the next parliament being branded a one-party institution.

Instead Rani is running as an independent against G.M. Quader, a former aviation minister under Hasina and the leader of a party with longstanding ties to the current government.

Rani, who has worked as an activist and organiser for transgender rights campaigns, said a small but dedicated group of supporters had helped her stage rallies and doorknock voters ahead of the poll.

Despite being born into a highly conservative family in the majority-Muslim nation, she said her relatives supported her campaign, which focuses on better healthcare and employment opportunities.

She added that she had found deep support in her constituency, in the northern city of Rangpur, despite a “smear campaign” that began as her run for the seat gained momentum.

“My opponent attempted to sway public opinion by claiming that electing a transgender MP would damage Rangpur’s reputation nationally and internationally,” she said.

Transgender women, known as “hijra” across the Asian subcontinent, have been the beneficiaries of growing legal recognition in Bangladesh over the past decade where they are officially recognized as a third gender.

Members of the community continue to struggle for basic rights and acceptance, lacking property and marriage rights, and often facing discrimination in employment.

Several have entered Bangladeshi politics, with one transgender woman in a rural town becoming the first member of the community to be elected mayor in the country in 2021.

Rani said that her campaign hoped to be “opening doors for future generations,” whether or not she won.

“Anwara’s courage gives us hope,” Latifur Rahman, a voter in Rani’s constituency, told AFP.

“She is not just a candidate for us, she is a symbol of the fight for dignity and equality and also for the fight towards an inclusive society.”


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