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New textbooks feature trans people in Bangladesh

STORY: In bright saris and heavy make-up, much of Bangladesh's marginalized transgender community, or hijras, spend their days begging.

Their lives can be tough. Though the government recognized hijras as a third gender in 2013, many live in abject poverty, engage in sex work to survive, or have little access to a proper education.

But on January 1, new textbooks were rolled out for millions of schoolchildren between the age of 11 and 13 featuring a segment on transgender people.

The books contain images of the community in respectable jobs, including a beautician, a development worker, and an elected mayor.

Muhammad Moshiuzzaman is a member of the national curriculum and textbook board who created the book.

"We wanted to make it inclusive, to bring them in our mainstream society, we have tried to include these contents in our new curriculum. We have piloted it in very small areas, and we got a very positive result (and) response from our students, because it was completely unknown matters to them."

Children like 12-year-old Fatiah Alam and her peers have embraced the texts.

"In our textbook, there is a chapter on transgender people and it says that the transgender community is very underprivileged. I think they are human beings, just like us. We came to know about them by learning from the book, we think we should help them with their progress."

But the books have not been welcomed by everyone.

A large crowd of conservative Muslims angered by the inclusion of hijras recently held a protest at Dhaka’s main mosque calling for the texts to be recalled.

Nevertheless, the transgender community and their supporters hope the move will spread awareness.

Transgender community leader, Jonak.

"If our story catches people's attention and they keep our suffering in mind, that will be good for us. Those who learn more about us will hopefully understand and then work towards our development in the future."

Officials estimate there are about 10,000 hijras in Bangladesh - a country which bans sexual activity between people of the same sex.

But rights groups say the figure could be as high as 1.5 million in the country of 170 million people.