‘We can do anything; we just need a platform’

We can become anything – doctors, engineers, teachers., we just need a platform, say Pakistan’s transgender community

Sana Jamal/Gulf NewsMembers of Pakistan’s transgender community at Okara school in Punjab. Transgender people often face ostracism, abuse and a troubled childhood.


Shunned by their families and expelled from their homes, khawaja siras often live in communal housing under a guru-chela (guardian-disciple) system, originating from India, which offers them housing, social and emotional support. ‘But they have no opportunities and often resort to begging, dancing and sex work to earn a living,’ explained Nadeem Kashish, a transgender woman and founder of the Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (SAFAR). To offer them a safe haven, Islamabad’s transgender community led by Kashish, has opened a shelter called Pari Bagh on the outskirts of Islamabad where ‘they can live and eat free of cost.’ In 2017, activists raised money to help build a more transgender-friendly mosque in Bari Imam known as the Rehmatulil Alameen mosque.

Pakistan has approximately 10,418 transgenders in a population of about 207 million according to 2017 national census. However, Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least half a million transgender people.

A school for Transgender people

In 2017, Pakistan’s first school for transgenders was opened in Okara city, Punjab province. Talking to Gulf News, the founder of the school, Nayyab Ali, said, ‘Currently, 35 students are enrolled at the school receiving secondary level education.’ Ali, who is the CEO of Punjab Transgender Foundation and has a degree in botany, believes that the stereotype image of trans people will change gradually as they reclaim spaces. ‘It was an uphill challenge to even get the building for the school but now we have the support of community people.’

Although trans people face discrimination when it comes to health, education and jobs, technically, enjoy better rights in Pakistan than in many countries. The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that hijras could get national identity cards as a ‘third sex’ and in 2017, the government issued its first passport with a transgender category.

Pakistan also announced that transgender persons will be part of a team of 150 boy scouts being sent to Saudi Arabia to serve as volunteers during the Haj 2018.

Five hijras stood as political candidates in 2013 Pakistan General Elections.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 has also been announced to empower them with due rights and provide welfare. “The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is taking the lead by securing legal rights, providing health cards, issued drivers’ licences to transgender people and by providing them skills and training’ said Qamar Naseem.

Earlier, five hijras stood as political candidates in 2013 Pakistan General Elections.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 has also been announced to empower them with due rights and provide welfare. “The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is taking the lead by securing legal rights, providing health cards, issued driver licences to transgender people and by providing them skills and training” said Qamar Naseem.

In recent years, Pakistan’s transgender community have made headlines as Pakistan’s first trans supermodel Kami Sid, first transgender lecturer Aisha Mughal and trans film actress Zara Changezi emerged from the shadows. “We can become anything — doctors, engineers, teachers. We just need a platform,” says model Kami Sid.

While a majority of transgender people in the country still face discrimination, many young and educated transgender men and women are rejecting the hijr

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