Beyond the binary: Tanha’s Changemaker Journey
Tanha is the leader of a youth-led social venture, TransEnd, that strives to increase the quality of life for members of the transgender community across Bangladesh. As an ally, she and her team are reverently building a new norm in Bangladeshi society where everyone is able to live a life of dignity and prosperity. This is her story to changemaking.
When Tanha was a child, her mother would tell Tanha about the struggle of transgender communities, sharing that many transgender people will visit the homes of newborns to wish them a long life and good luck in exchange for a small sum of money. Through these stories, Tanha quickly learned that in her neighborhood lived a large transgender community, many who struggled for an income and begged door to door. Her mother demonstrated to Tanha how to be kind, compassionate, and treat others with dignity, regardless of their gender identity. Over the years, Tanha learned that her neighborhoods were barred from many jobs because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and were living in extreme poverty as a result. Witnessing this apparent, unsettling injustice in her own neighborhood pushed Tanha to educate herself more about gender and laws in Bangladesh.
Tanha learned that there were more than one million transgender people in Bangladesh. Transgender, she read, means a person’s sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. Many people are rejected or stigmatized by their families because their identity disrupts traditional expectations of a gender binary: two genders that correspond with people’s sex at birth. From constant feelings of fear and shame to public scrutiny to a lack of legal protection, the transgender community in Bangladesh, and around the world, is often excluded from mainstream society and denied their basic human rights.
For Tanha, and many of her peers, they felt that the transgender community is one of the most neglected communities in their country. This realization left a lasting impact on her and the view she had on the world. Tanha began to visit the nearby bus stops and parks to learn more about her neighbors by holding conversations, and it was through such interactions that she gained a deeper understanding of the needs and hardships of her community, which sparked an idea.
Through conversations, Tanha learned about the individual struggles and structural barriers of the transgender community, such as inaccessibility to employment, wealth, and legal protection in the workplace.Tanha also grew up believing that empowerment was deeply related to financially stability, which gave rise to her social venture today, TransEnd. When forming her social venture, she was fueled by the premise that through assisting transgender communities in Bangladesh to achieve social and financial independence, together they could start bridging the divide between the transgender community and mainstream society.
Tanha gathered a team of five passionate and driven peers. Their first activity was to survey the transgender community in their area to find out more about their needs and identify opportunities for solutions. Their findings showed that many individuals rely on their inner and outer beauty for self-expression. Consequently, the team partnered with online jewelry and apparel brands for employment opportunities. Their research also demonstrated a pressing demand for public awareness about gender. In response, the team regularly organizes social awareness campaigns in an effort to educate their communities on the gender spectrum, encouraging open conversations and discourse in order to break social stigmas.
Tanha and her team strives to break the taboos and stigmas placed within the LGBTQIA+ community by uplifting more community-driven solutions. Due to the new limitations linked to the global pandemic, many of TransEnd’s pre-planned events were canceled. As an alternative, the team of changemakers organized an online competition, ‘Stop TransPhobia’, in honor of International Day Against Transphobia. For the competition, they invited artists to create and submit artworks, photographs, poems, and short stories on the theme of ‘Transgender & Trans Rights’.
Joining hands with ProjectDebi and Orodhdho Foundation, the second online event carried out is called TaderTore, a fundraising initiative for the Transgender Community. The fundraising campaign aimed to provide daily essentials to more than 60 people from Kushtia and Mugda, two districts in Bangladesh. In addition, the TransEnd team is engaging renowned activists for gender rights on their Facebook page to continually build awareness. For Tanha, her experience as a young changemaker has shaped her into the young, influential, and powerful woman she is today with a commitment to a life of social change.
Conformity is a common tendency in human behavior. Instead of conforming to mainstream beliefs or rules about gender, Tanha and her friends are allies to the transgender community in order to achieve a new norm in society. Tanha is amplifying the voices and power of transgender individuals while challenging the societal expectations around gender and gender identity. For Tanha, this is what it means to build a world where everyone is a changemaker, where everyone is actively contributing to solutions that secure equity and justice. And by building bridges across communities, Tanha is an example to other young people across Bangladesh what it means to be a changemaker.
This story was written by Vedha Bandaru. Claire Hiscott and Zoë Ogilvie contributed to this story.