Striving towards diversity and inclusivity
12 Vaja, a Rajshahi based organisation, is a social platform for the transgender community. The platform aims to bridge the gap between gender conforming and gender non-conforming individuals to create a tolerant and inclusive society.
12 Vaja, local street food in Rajshahi, is a type of Jhalmuri with a lot of different ingredients, mixed together. As the organisation stands for diversity and inclusivity, the name reflects the mixture and importance of different individuals in society.
Mashiat Hossain, along with Co-founder Shubho Shams, founded 12 Vaja in 2017 to provide support to the transgender community. Starting their journey as a school to gather knowledge about transgender people, 12 Vaja later developed into a supporting platform for them in Rajshahi. Unfortunately, due to structural barriers, despite their interest, the school was later handed down to another organisation.
The goal for 12 Vaja is to mainstream gender nonconformity, which is about not conforming to any specific gender roles or identifying as a gender different from what you were assigned at birth.
"No matter where we went for support, we realised there were several stereotypical assumptions about the community, in most places," says Mashiat, a graduate student at the Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands. "We need to normalise gender nonconformity and treat each individual with similar opportunities."
For every event 12 Vaja conducts, the main motto is to gather people and let them know each other. "Our society has segregated transgender community or people with different perceptions regarding their gender and all we want is to create a safe space where people can come and know about each other to break these stereotypical barriers," expresses Mashiat.
At the beginning of the pandemic last year, the organisation raised money through crowdfunding and distributed various necessary items to the transgender community. Among their various projects, 'Becoming Poly', a promo campaign, 'Tader Niye Kichu Kotha' a discussion session, Henna Festival and Movie Festival are noteworthy.
"Most people don't accept us easily, but members of 12 Vaja accepted us positively and we learned a lot from them," shares Poly, a proud owner of a boutique house, for whom the promo campaign was arranged by 12 Vaja. "I'm grateful to 12 Vaja for helping me out with my campaign and I wish to see them go further with their work."
Over the years, 12 Vaja has collaborated with other organisations, including Diner Alo Hijra Sangha, another organisation run by the transgender community. "Members of 12 Vaja are great friends of ours, they stood by our side, helped us with ensuring education, employment opportunities, and distributed relief packages in times of need," says Mohona, President, Diner Alo Hijra Sangha.
"They conducted a workshop on technical education once, and I was actively involved in the event. They also hold networking sessions and movie festivals," shares Julie, a member of the Diner Alo Hijra Sangha.
"We are working with a community we knew nothing about at first. Now, we are connected and working together. It helped us to grow and learn as individuals as well," expresses Maesha Marium, Logistics Coordinator at 12 Vaja and a Master's student at National University.
With a team of 21 volunteers actively present, 12 Vaja plans is to expand their volunteer base as well as secure continuous sources of funds. The members are currently working on establishing a website and according to Mashiat, they plan to register as a social organisation in the future.