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Using digital technologies to achieve gender equality

Provide a case study on how digital technology is used to achieve gender equality and empower all women,
Person dressed in brightly coloured traditional attire looking at phone

To understand how digital technologies can be used to address SDG 5, we are going to examine the case of a third-gender community in Bangladesh who used a social media platform to fight for social inclusion.

Bangladesh’s third-gender community

In order to understand the case, it’s helpful to have some background of the third gender community in Bangladesh. As a conservative society steeped in traditional orthodox values, accepting and protecting the rights of the gender-diverse population is elusive. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) communities are institutionally, legally, and socially and religiously excluded. They are openly discriminated, harassed and often tortured. Therefore, people who belong to LGBTQ group understandably fear exposing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The risk of social exclusion and other human rights breaches are greatest for non-cisgender women, known in the local language, as hijras—people who are assigned “male” at birth and identify as female later in life.

Hijra commonly experience terrible discrimination and are often placed under great pressure by their families.  Consequently, many are compelled to leave their family. Mockery and bullying by teachers and peers results in most dropping out from the education system. Social institutions collectively leave hijras without home, education and legitimate income. Hijras often take shelter in dwellings called ‘dera’ with same-kind people, commanded by a ‘guru’. Gurus have their own area demarcation and maintain a central hierarchy. The guru requires them to earn money through sex -work, ritual performances at ceremonies or ‘badhai’ (a traditional way of collecting money in groups from shops, houses and mass people). The guru typically retains 50 percent of the total income but leaving the guru is not an option for fear of retribution and lack of other options.

Using digital technologies to achieve social inclusion

Hijra people have harnessed the power of social media to work toward social inclusion. Social media networks offer anonymity and self-presentation, providing a relatively safe environment for hijra communities. Hijra people use social media (mostly Facebook) to meet others, seek information, socialise, get mental support, and manage their identity. They also consider the media as a weapon to express themselves, reduce stigma, accrue social capital, and seek friendship, romance, and sex. They meet on social media to fight for social and political inclusion as well as to enlighten the public about LGBTQ rights making meaningful impacts in the society. Facebook also allows them to ‘block’ people who behave disrespectfully, which they cannot practice in offline world. Social media is also a useful tool for NGOs assisting hijra communities, who use it to provide online training and consultation and to promote the empowerment of the hijra communities.

How the hijras use Facebook for social inclusion

Identity management: Self-identification is important for any person but is critical for a hijras as they have complex personal identity. Facebook enables hijras to develop, understand, express, and celebrate their true identity, which they could not in physical space.

Social interaction: Because of social isolation and lack of social support, hijras experience mental health issues. Social media provide safe havens for them to interact, develop a feeling of collective communities and get support from the same-minded people.

Emotional reassurance: With limited exposure and access to face-to-face psychological facilities, hijras use social media for emotional reassurance. From social media, they get mutual and unconditional emotional support especially from others who can validate their situations.

Social self-esteem: Using social media itself generates perceived prestige among the peers of hijra communities. Others’ acceptance of their presence gives a feeling of achievement and enhances their perceived social self-esteem.

Quality of life: Social media help hijras improve quality of life by understanding a better meaning of life and opening opportunities to contribute to society and prosper.

Potential barriers and challenges

Using social media for social inclusion also presents some barriers for the hijras. Given many hijras are expelled from family and school at early stage of their lives, literacy is a serious concern. Also, the cost of Internet is high in Bangladesh. Purchasing Internet data, therefore, to run social media is a hindrance for them.

Want to know more?

Family bond or bonded labour: What ails the guru-chela relationship in the hijra community? provides more information on the role gurus play in the hijra community.

© RMIT 2023
This article is from the free online

Advancing Social Impact with Digital Technologies

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