Connecting local responses around the world
I am sitting with members of a hijira group in western Bangladesh. They asked to see my colleague and I when we visited a church group in Meherpur. The hijira are some of the most isolated and marginalised groups in South Asian society. Hijira are a transgender minority group who often describe themselves as professional wedding dancers. They are frequently the target for abuse, discrimination and violent assault.
The church development workers in Meherpur had done a great job of getting alongside them and they wanted to introduce them to us when we visited. I had met hijira groups before on previous visits to India, so valued this chance for to meet and talk to them. We asked them what strengths they felt that the hijira community had. They responded by telling us that they had very strong ties within their group – they look after each other very well, often having to protect vulnerable members from abuse and attack. There was an unmistakable sense of joy within their group, and for a group so marginalised and exposed to prejudice and discrimination, they were hopeful for themselves; that they would be better understood and accepted by society. They take great care and pride in their appearance and had an unmistakable air of dignity and confidence. They were ready to talk to anyone. They admitted that there are many myths about the hijira that circulate in society and that it was difficult very often to stay positive.
I saw within their group the same strengths that exist in pretty much all the communities I have ever visited and had conversations with. The question was asked of the church development workers, ‘how do you see the strengths of the hijira group helping you in doing your work?’ The conversation ran on in a very positive way as possibilities were shared and perspectives understood better. This was a window into an example of where a new type of conversation can change the future for the better. At <em>Us</em> (the new name for USPG) we believe that transformation begins with a conversation and that to change the future we need to change the conversation. By affirming the strengths that every person and every community has, we affirm the image of God within all people, and communities scarred by poverty, injustice and discrimination start to be able to make their own responses to their concerns and hopes for a full life.