Throughout most South Asian countries, hijras have a long history dating back thousands of years. Designated male at birth, hijras adopt female identities, wear female clothing, and can undergo gender reassignment surgery. Often the subject of persecution, many hijra live in all-hijra communes and adopt hijra children who have been rejected by their family of origin. Some hijras undergo formal initiation into the community by having their penis, testicles, and scrotum removed (a procedure called nirwaan)
Despite lobbying attempts by hijra activists and civil rights organizations, most goverments have been slow to grant them full legal status as a legal third gender and they are treated as male for most legislative purposes. In a revolutionary move by the Bangladesh government, the country's prime minister announced on November 11, 2013 that the hijras living in that country would be legally recognized as a third gender. The announcement follows on the heels of a similar move by the German government recognizing intersex children as a third gender. In Bangladesh, there are currently 10,000 hijras who often face persecution from their families and society as a whole. Their lack of legal status often leads to marginalization in education, health, and housing.
Under the new government policy, hijras will be allowed to identify their status on all offical documents, including passports. Hijra will be a legally recognized term corresponding to "transgender" in Western countries. In an interview with news media, Bangladesh Hijra Kallyan Foundation President Abida Sultana Mitu thanked the government for this initiative. "As we are the most neglected section of the society, I think the government will take more steps for protecting our rights," Mitu said.
Though the legal decision is not binding on neighbouring countries, hijra activists are hopeful that establishing a precedent will inspire other countries to follow suit.