How the market contributes to alleviate the gender stigma: The case of identity at work

09 Aug 2022
The Sasin Research Seminar series returned with a joint presentation from Dr. Mette Morsing, Head of PRME at United Nations Global Compact, and Dr. Enrico Fontana, Sasin’s Professor in Management and Organization. The talk began with introductions and establishing that the paper is still a work in progress. The lecture started with a look at the Hijras, a third gender and non-conforming group of people in South Asia. A brief overview explained their community, background, and work, such as performing rituals, singing, and dancing. They are also associated with sex work and begging. The Hijras are socially ostracized, stigmatized, and their role is particularly important because they are “the most excluded of the excluded”. The literature on stigma and identity work in organization theory was discussed, and it was noted that people with stigmatized identities are not just passive victims of prejudice. Instead, they typically engage in identity work to protect themselves from threats. While there has been some research done on this, little is known about the identity work of gender minorities in professional settings. The research question asks: “How do gender minorities alleviate the gender stigma through identity work in professional settings?” This was followed by an explanation of the research methods. The paper takes a qualitative approach with fieldwork starting in 2018 in Bangladesh. Data were collected through interviews of Hijras and Hijra business owners. The data collection is ongoing, with more planned later in the year. Next, the findings of the research were examined. Many of the Hijras felt “dignified” by becoming business owners, and this resulted in a shift in attitudes toward them in their localities. Some also felt different from other Hijra due to their business position and how locals treat and accept them. This begs the question of how Hijras can grow their business, especially given their underprivileged status in society. One reason is that they use their bodies – not for entertainment but by using their masculine and feminine aspects in different ways while interacting with others. This can include how they wear clothing and make-up and their voice and gestures. These body-based interactions don’t just help businesses but also change their stigmatized image. Examples of how this works were discussed and reinforced that Hijra did not just emphasize being a woman, they switched between male and feminine traits. Clothing, voices, and gestures were used in different ways depending on the situation, with some finding being Hijra an advantage. The authors discussed how they would be linking the paper to aesthetic work and body work. It will examine how bodies are used in work settings. It also looks at how the body can be a site of resistance for social change and decrease stigmatism. The literature relating to these fields was then discussed. The paper is still being worked on, with data to be collected and ideas to be further examined, so the speakers then opened up to questions and suggestions. A variety of topics were discussed. The advantages and disadvantages of being a Hijra were questioned, as some quotes mentioned how the individuals stressed that they were not like typical Hijra and that this was beneficial to business. So, some argued that these individuals could inversely reinforce the stigma. However, they still counted themselves as Hijra and part of the community, and they took action to improve their lives and those of other Hijras. Another question led to a discussion about Hijra in the countryside as opposed to the city. As most were thrown out of their homes, Hijra tended to gravitate toward urban areas, where there is more opportunity, regardless of where they family is initially from. Another question related to the fluidity of how Hijra switched between genders. They are not trans women, as defined in the West; they are more non-binary, so they tend to be more fluid. Regional differences in acceptability were discussed. In Thailand, for example, Kathoeys or trans women are usually more accepted than the Hijras in Bangladesh and many work in different companies and organizations. Other questions looked at stigma in the workplace more generally, the hierarchy within the groups, relationships within the community, and individual agency.  
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