Transgender bill- The Missing Pieces

On August 5, the Lok Sabha passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019. This bill seeks to provide a mechanism for social, economic and educational empowerment of transgenders, and is the first legislation in India to recognise Transgenders.

The bill specifies the following offences against the trans community to be punishable (i) compelling transgender persons to do forced or bonded labour (excluding compulsory government service for public purposes); (ii) denial of use of a public place; (iii) removal from household, village or other place of residence; and (iv) physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic abuse.

The bill provides for economic and social empowerment of the transgender community albeit in a limited manner. It criminalizes violence against the Trans community, but has limitations. The 2016 version of the bill criminalized begging by Transgender community. This bill does away with this and has been able to recognise that begging is an intrinsic part of the culture of certain Trans communities in India. This of course, happened as a result of policy advocacy from the Transgender  and feminist community in India

However the Transgender Community is not happy with the provisions of the bill.

We at Marching Sheep have analysed the bill, and the earlier judgements and highlight the following points-

1.   The bill mandates that a transgender person will need to take a certificate from the district magistrate post a physical examination by a committee. The entire process is long drawn and tedious. Not only is it violative, it is also in contradiction of the NALSA** judgement 2014 which stated that a physiological test and self-determination would suffice to recognise the third gender. The  bill therefore leaves no scope for self-definition or affirmation of gender identity.

2.   People belonging to the trans community and who wish to identify as either a man or a woman would need to go through gender affirmation surgery, also known as sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Insisting on SRS was deemed illegal by the NALSA judgement.

3.   Transgender have largely been defined in biological terms, which plugs into the gender binary yet again. It does not recognise gender identity as fluid and  self-affirmed and the fact that all transgenders necessarily do not resort to sex change surgery to articulate their gender and sexual identities. Also, all transgenders cannot even afford it. Gender identity and its spectrum is not as straitjacketed as this bill makes it to be.

4.   While begging by Trans community is no longer criminal as per this bill, the fact that the bill covers forced/bonded labour, and the fact that begging is considered a crime by law in 22 states, makes this a grey area, and still leaves them exposed to harassment. Also, given that lack of social acceptance and resources, begging might be the only source of livelihood.

5.    The bill further states that when a parent or immediate family member is “unable to take care of a transgender”, the transgender person should be sent to a rehabilitation centre. This in itself seems strange, as being a trans person is not an illness or an addiction.

6.    Offences like compelling a transgender person to beg, denial of access to a public place, physical and sexual abuse, etc. would attract up to two years imprisonment and a fine. We feel that physical and sexual abuse of all genders should be punishable in line with the severity of the crime and not to be defined by gender. Just like we applaud Death penalty for penetrative assault of children, we would ask for stronger punishment for assault of all genders.

7.    The bill pronounces far more stringent action against violence done by “straight people” to transgenders. In case of transgender to transgender violence, the punishment is far less severe. the understanding and definition of sexual and gender based violence needs to be wider.

8.    The bill comes as an irony in the face of the new surrogacy bill, which does not recognise the reproductive rights of non-heterosexual people. The surrogacy bill does not give same sex couple, transgenders the right to parenthood via surrogacy.

Whatever the intent of the bill, it has fallen short of fulfilling the expectations of the community and activists working with the community, and truly driving the acceptance and integration of trans persons in the society. The bill is silent on concrete steps that should be taken for-

1.    Educational facilities and resources
2.    Healthcare access and resources
3.    Employment support
4.    Driving societal campaigns and drive awareness
5.    Access to Public facilities

In a nutshell, the bill does not provide for affirmative action for transgenders i.e. reservations. As a starting point, to help them get started, reservation in education and employment is a much required step. If the bill is unable to provide for this, it will fail to address attitudes, biases and lack of facilities that will deter them from accessing their rights and leading a life of dignity.
**National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India, which declared transgender people to be a ‘third gender’, affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India will be equally applicable to transgender people, and gave them the right to self-identification of their gender as male, female or third-gender. This judgement was a major step towards gender equality in India.

Author: Sonica Aron

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POSH is a good starting point but we have a long way to go…

In a recent interview with a department head at a manufacturing company, he said “I am not against gender diversity. In my family, women work and are at successful posts. In fact, I had a female team member a few months back. Out of courtesy, I dropped her home at the end of the work day, 2-3 times. This resulted in gossip in our company. It made both me and her uncomfortable. She eventually quit, for other reasons. But, now I am uncomfortable about hiring women. I don’t want any one else, as well as myself, to go through such experience again.”

Two thoughts struck me

1.    Both the manager and the employee got victimized for no fault of theirs. And there was no organizational recourse, despite the existence of POSH. (Also, it was the lady who quit and moved on!)
2.    Having experienced this myself nearly 18 years back, has nothing changed in so many years?

I would like to share my thoughts here on both the points.

The first point being POSH and its implementation. It is a much-needed act, designed to prevent and solve for harassment at the workplace. That being said, It’s implementation is still patchy and a tick mark! I have heard opinions ranging from “Yes, there was a POSH training and we have a committee, but not too sure about how this works” to “POSH is a tool for women to misuse”. People are still not comfortable about voicing out concerns and the act has not been implemented in ‘spirit’. What is needed is a thorough awareness exercise with all employees in the organization being clear about what POSH entails. How even malicious gossip is harassment, how quitting is not the only solution, how even male managers can be victims and so on. It is not once a year activity, will need significant knowledge building and awareness drives.

On the second point, the issue is much deeper. Deep routed mindsets and biases that slot men and women in a certain manner or have stereo typical views on interactions between the two genders. These get manifested in behaviors at the workplace leading to non-inclusive environments. Hiring decisions, Promotion decisions, Appraisal ratings all get impacted and there is nothing that is being done to question, counter and stop these mindsets. In fact, some of these are justified with comments like “We can’t change the way the society thinks” to “It’s natural for priorities of women to change. After all family and kids are more important”. Topical policies won’t help unless people get into conversations and committed actions around dealing with such gender based biases.

In my opinion, organizations today are poised at a juncture where there is awareness about how gender diversity can be beneficial and is just not a “Good to do”. The only thing required is to approach this with a consistent, holistic long-term strategy that addresses all aspects- from POSH to mindsets…. And see the power of diversity unleashed.

Author: Sonica Aron

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A meeting in Krabi

On a recent trip to Krabi, Thailand, I made a new friend. She is from Krabi, and works as a Manager at a popular beach side restaurant. When I first met her, I noticed her charm, buoyancy and the way she communicated with guests and staff. I reached out and requested her to join me for a breakfast meeting so that I could understand more about her and her life. And she was kind enough to agree.

What was so special about her, you would wonder. Apart from being an effective manager and host, Olivia (Name changed) is actually a man.

She opened up about her life, her challenges and her dreams at breakfast the next day. She was 4 years old, when she first started behaving like a girl and started showing signs of being a transgender. In a country where the term “lady boy” is so openly used, I was surprised to know that there are civil employment restrictions and marriage restrictions. Olivia’s father, out of concern for her future, was angry, and tried to stop her from being what she was.

At the age of 12, she was sent with other boys to study religion for three years, where she had to dress and behave like a boy. She was mocked, but she endured.

When she returned, she asserted her sexual identity, and this time her father relented- on two conditions- 1. Study 2. She will not undergo change of gender surgery. She agreed to both.

Olivia went to the university in Phuket to study management. She started taking hormones to help her live the life she wanted.

She got into a relationship. It was illegal for her to marry a man, but with blessings from both families they had a live in relationship. In her own words, “I did everything like a wife would do- clean, cook, take care of his mother”. One day, he abruptly tells her to leave, because now, he wants a family.

Olivia was sad, and she struggled with her emotions. But she had the support of her family and friends, and she had her dreams. Her dream is to work hard, excel in her profession, buy land and have her own home.’

And having met her, seen her at her workplace, and having spoken to her, I know she can.

I am sharing this episode, because meeting her, spending time with her touched me. It made me realize that there might be so many Olivia’s in India, around the world, who struggle to assert their sexual identities, to have resources to study, to find employment, to find dignity, to have relationships and live a normal life. And what can we do, as a society to help them feel supported, respected and integrated?

Author: Sonica Aron

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Getting ROI with Gender Diversity! It is an enabling investment for the future and not as a cost head

While interacting with managers across different levels across different organizations, I am often faced with this question- what’s all the fuss on gender diversity all about? Why do we “need” to drive gender diversity? What are the benefits? What’s in it for me?

These questions are not asked directly, but the skepticism or the cynicism is there. Often it comes out in the form of push backs-

  • This is a top down/ global target…. It’s been put in my KRAs
  • It’s a quota system
  • There are practical issues….those setting these targets don’t get it
  • All these policies, sessions etc….does it not prove that women are being given preferential treatment? It seems now we men need reservation….

And somewhere, the lack of buy in is counter-productive to every measure being taken in this area.

So in this write up, decided to put down my thoughts on why we need to focus on gender diversity, not just as an organization, but as a society, as a family, as an individual. And this one is right out of my life, from the heart.

I would like to take the case of Neeru, my female chauffeur. Working in a profession considered a male bastion. She is contributing towards the well being of her family, working hard towards giving her children an education that she could not get, at the same time fulfilling some of her lifestyle aspirations. She proudly showed me a newly acquired android phone recently. Her husband supports her in every way he can. Drops her for duty on days she has to report early to work, helps with grocery shopping and so on.

Are there security issues that arise while she is on duty? Yes, they do. She is trained in martial arts and as an employer, we need to make sure that in case she is going back late, she has safe transport. Comes at additional cost? Sure!

Huge benefits for me, her and society at large

  • The realization for my 10 year old son, when he first heard the phrase- “Neeru didi- Driver didi” – Girls can do everything that boys can. In an age where kids still get bombarded with gender stereotyping cues (tennis classes for boys and ballet for girls), I often felt that my just saying it was not enough. Demonstration did it. Priceless!
  • She provides an adherence of ethic that none of my previous drivers did. Right from getting duty register signed to accounting till the last paisa on parking slips.
  • From disbelief to amazement to adoption, I have family and friends wanting to know how they can hire female chauffeurs too. More employment opportunities, more jobs
  • The trickle effect, other girls in her locality are signing up for driving lessons, yearning for financial independence and respectable work.
  • Change in social standing of these families, better future for children, Financial trickle effect, impact on overall economy.

Everyone gained here. This is in a job where the biases and nays would be among the loudest.

Organisations are a reflection of the society we live in. They are not stand-alone units existing in isolation. We as people take our stereotypes, mindsets and barriers to the organisation where we work. It just needs one nudge or one act to break the barrier. Explore ways of including diversity and explore the benefits for yourself!

Author: Sonica Aron

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Exploring Gender Diversity beyond numbers!

There is something fundamentally wrong in the way ’Gender Diversity’ is being defined.

The other day, I interviewed a young, driven HR manager from a fairly well known organisation. In our discussion on diversity, she proudly showcased change in ratios of women recruited from campuses. These were an outcome of a pure ‘number focus’ … She may well have been from the sales team with the month end being the campus day zero!

Let’s look at how ‘Gender Diversity’ is being defined today. Wikipedia describes it as “Gender diversity is equitable or fair representation between genders. Gender diversity most commonly refers to an equitable ratio of men and women, but may also include non-binary gender categories.” The concept focuses on the numeric aspect of the “balance” that every organization is striving to achieve today.

Yet, the problem lies beyond numbers. Many popular studies suggest that the percentage of women rising to senior management in most organizations decline drastically. A study by World Economic Forum claims that 29% of working women in Asia drop out of work between junior and mid-level positions.

Then, why the focus on the numbers recruited? All it does is, gets organisations into a vicious circle of targeted hiring to fill the gaps created by and to plan for attrition.

And attrition comes at a cost- which is not just financial. The repercussions are lasting.

Hence, a number driven approach is, in my opinion is incomplete. A systematic approach is needed to achieve gender diversity within the organizations.

The focus needs to be towards creating an ecosystem that understands and supports diversity. It is a way of working that is inclusive and supports the needs of a diverse set of employees. The ecosystem transcends across  the vision, to the policies and processes, to leadership and to the infrastructure. And to build a sustainable ecosystem, It is critical to understand the root cause for the imbalance and the solutioning becomes simpler with greater and sustainable impact.

As perfectly put by Theresa J. Whitmarsh, Executive Director of the Washington State Investment Board at the annual meeting of World Economic Forum- “If you exclude 50% of the talent pool, it’s no wonder you find yourself in a war for talent.”

Author: Sonica Aron

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Building an Organisation that supports Diversity – Needs a Holistic framework!

Sonica, I have a problem she said… I have an employee who was on maternity leave for almost half the year. She has not done more than half the things she was supposed to do. How do I rate her on her performance? This was my old coachee working in a well-known durables organisation.

But, the things she did, did she do them well? I asked.
Yes, she exceeded them. If those were her only KRAs, it would be the top rating. But the things she couldn’t do, there were others who pitched for the departments KRAs and they also will need recognition. I need to fit people in the bell curve and who do I put where?
If there were no constraints what would you do, I asked? …

This conundrum is faced by most managers whose female employees go on maternity leave. Choices made here are critical. The impact is lasting on the individual, the team and the organisation.

This never ending loop is due to inevitable conflicts between the personal and professional life stages of an employee, and a lack of understanding and sensitivity around life stages. It’s not just about early stages of marriage or maternity, the conflict comes up when a partner/spouse needs to relocate, class X and XII exams, parental illness etc. The social conditioning of over thousands of years usually rests most of these responsibilities on the shoulders of women, and therein lies the issue.

For the individual, the way an organisation treats her, at such crucial moments and life stages, would have a strong impact on her long term view on the organisation and continuity. If not handled consistently, for the team, there can be potential disgruntlement, wink-wink nod-nod banter on ‘wish we were diversity’ from male colleagues. And the organisation puts its culture on risk with the decisions made at these points of time.

The result is an incorrect diversity ratio, reluctance about hiring women employees, forced diversity hiring decisions and unspoken elements in the interpersonal relationship amongst members across the organization.

Yet, many organisations don’t recognize this issue and don’t deal with it systemically.

What is needed is a wholistic approach, encompassing policies and processes, that enable individuals to navigate through life stages, without having to compromise on professional goals and aspirations.

These then need to be communicated in a tone that is well received across both genders. When populated with the buy-in and alignment of senior leaders and managers it slowly becomes a part of the ‘ethos’ of the organisation. It enables all managers to take calls that help build an inclusive culture and associates understand, appreciate and develop a sense of responsibility and respect towards the proactivity.

A woman’s career need not devolve into a forced choice of “Career vs personal life”. A systemic approach can help minimise the impact of life stages on careers.
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Author: Sonica Aron


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