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On Trans Inclusion And Workplace: “I’m Always Scared About Losing My Job”

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Trigger warning: Mentions of transphobia

Written by: Ritushree

In India, we do not talk openly about issues like sexuality, gender or even sexual health and education. Anything that doesn’t fit society’s mould of ‘normal’ becomes taboo and you can’t talk about it. When it comes to transgender persons, people don’t talk about us, or when they do, their biases show up, quite clearly.

Representational image.

There is a gap in the idea of trans persons. People do not know what trans persons go through but more importantly, they don’t even want to understand. There’s a clear lack of willingness. The same people who are unwilling and don’t understand are also part of our workplaces.

At work, everyone has conscious and subconscious biases that need to be identified and unlearned. Organizations mostly fail to provide an environment that is conducive to learning and unlearning. Almost all companies have professionals for Learning and Development (L&D) in the HR Team but in my experience, training the workforce to be more gender-sensitive hasn’t exactly been a priority. To add to that, the lack of visibility for trans people in the workplace adds to how incomplete and inaccurate such processes turn out to be.

Why The Approach To D&I In Indian Companies Should Change

When companies talk about Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), they only talk about the inclusion of the Cisgender Heterosexual Woman. Some may go ahead and include persons from different sexual orientations but when it comes to trans folks – such inclusion is rare.

If companies really want to start a process to include more trans people in their workforce, they need to do three things: the willingness to accept that there is a serious bias against trans folks, fix biased processes in recruitment and ensure trans employees have visibility, psychological and physical safety at their workplace. These steps need to be undertaken not as part of CSR but as a business priority. There is an established business case that proves that a more diverse and inclusive organisation is better positioned than its competitors to make profits.

Before any of that can happen, organisations first need to start a conversation on trans inclusion. Unless you start the discussion, you cannot move forward. Even in an organization without a D&I policy, a discussion should be started with cisgender heterosexual employees to know their views.

The problem: Indian corporates do not provide a free space for discussion and arguments. Conflicts are healthy and good organizations should build and allow for such a space. A safe and fearless space where everything can be discussed is a must because brushing everything under carpet is not the solution, it is a recipe for destruction.

A safe workplace should be non-negotiable. Trans folks should be able to come to the workspace as themselves because people can only thrive when they are their true selves. Organizations need to understand this and they need to start working on this.

Representational image.

Ritushree’s Experiences At Work

My personal experiences with trans inclusion and the workplace have been horrible.

I am a non-operative transgender woman and still not out at the office. I tried a couple of times but the transphobic and homophobic environment at work dragged my feet back to the closet. I am now open to most of my family, thankfully.

When I spoke to my family about my gender, the first thing I did was tell them that I wasn’t going to get married to a woman. It was easy at home but not in the workplace. I feared losing my job. My colleagues, when they came to know that I wasn’t going to marry – they started mocking me. Words like ‘beech ka’ and ‘meetha’ are part of my life now. The washroom dilemma is there as well.

I constantly watch myself – how I sit and talk and what I am wearing – just to avoid unwarranted comments from colleagues. On many occasions, I have confronted them about their transphobic ways. That said, I am always scared about losing my job.

A lot of the time people don’t say things to my face but well, they talk behind my back and I can’t help that. I can’t stop them from talking shit and I can’t stop waxing my body. I can’t tell anyone about my grievances as the management is of no help.

The organisation that I work at has no D&I policy. When I tried to push for one, I faced resistance. As per the management and most of the employees, LGBTQIA+ inclusion is against our ‘culture’. They rejected the idea of inclusivity as if I was talking about genocide.

Being a trans woman and going to work as a cisgender male and pretending to be someone I am not has taken a toll on me. The work environment is so transphobic that I’m constantly aware of rude remarks. I can’t also revolt beyond a certain point as financial independence is important, and of primary concern to me.

These experiences at work were what led me to start reading up more on D&I. I have also begun to look for opportunities in other organisations that at least have a D&I policy. Even in organisations that claim to be champions of inclusivity, the visibility of trans persons is negligible and that concerns me a lot. In my experience of being from a marginalized group, it feels like hell working in the Indian corporate system where I can’t be my true self. Some organizations have come up with inclusive policies but a lot still needs to be done.

In my opinion, as long as organisations don’t start practising D&I for all groups and do away with pinkwashing, nothing will really change.

To conclude, I would say, D&I is not about merely implementing an anti-discrimination policy. Policies on D&I should aim to make the workplace safer so that folks can come out without fear and be their true selves. Organizations should understand, at the end of the day – a happy employee is an engaged employee.

About the author: Ritushree is a transgender woman (she/her), corporate lawyer, D&I campaigner, and LGBTQIA+ activist. 

This post was originally published on Ungender, here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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