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Deep Dive: Is there hope for transgender representation in Pakistan?

Deep Dive: Is there hope for transgender representation in Pakistan?

Mehreen Zahra-Malik
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Transgenders have historically struggled in Pakistan and have oftentimes been placed on the periphery of Pakistani society. One of the most marginalised groups in the country, this community has faced severe discrimination for years. However, new legislature and inclusion of transgenders in entertainment may just be setting a different precedent.

Historically, transgenders have been placed on the outskirts of Pakistani society

Due to socially and religiously conservative nature of Pakistani society, transgender individuals have typically been viewed through an unpleasant lens. As a result of this, they have always been excluded and discriminated in areas such as education, employment and healthcare.

Victims of rampant violence and abuse

This is not to mention the immense amount of violence and abuse the community has had to face over the years. Transgender Pakistani’s are typically lacking in financial and emotional support; when a child is born as a transgender, they are usually kicked out by their family, otherwise they often make the decisions to leave their families when the emotional and physical abuse from being a transgender becomes too much. This makes them easy targets for physical and sexual abuse.

Abuse among members from this marginalised group is very common in various areas in Pakistan. Numerous cases of rapes, abductions and murders against transgender individuals have been reported, with the vast majority remaining unsolved.

What’s worse is that the exact number of abuse cases and killings of transgender individuals in Pakistan isn’t recorded. Without clarity as to the statistics of the abuse cases against these minorities, implementing effective measures to help them becomes increasingly difficult.

For these reasons, transgender individuals have always had to fight harder than the average Pakistani for rights basic rights such as recognition of their identity, access to opportunities, healthcare, psycho-social support, gainful employment, engagement opportunities, justice, and most importantly, the need to promote respect and freedom.

Transgenders as sex workers

Due to discrimination, ill-treatment and cases of sexual violence, it becomes difficult for transgender people to receive a proper education. Facing rejection from both home and school, they often run away – finding solace only in their own community. With no proper education and facing severe hatred from the people around them, they are left with no other choice but to adopt the professions others in their company have adopted – sex work.

Representation of transgenders in media

Stereotyping transgender people in media, all over the world, is more of a norm than an exception. These stereotypes are often one of the main causes of the skewed and dangerous perceptions of these individuals in Pakistani society. A close look at any Pakistani entertainment that chooses to acknowledge the presence of transgenders at all, reveals a very grim picture. They are either ridiculed, typically portrayed as “dumb” and the punchline of any joke, or worse yet they are villainized. Deeming them “evil” and “scary” only deepens already biased misconceptions about them, therefore putting them at greater risk for discrimination.

Hope for the community after all?

In 2018, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was introduced in the Pakistan National Assembly. The bill prohibited discrimination against transgender persons, confers them the right to be recognized as per their self-perceived gender identity and provides for welfare measures by the government. The introduction of this legislature has been symbolic for transgender individuals in the country. For many, it is a major step in the right direction.

Moreover, since the introduction of this bill, transgender individuals were encouraged to participate in local election and we saw thirteen different trans candidates express their desire partake. The issuance of CNIC cards for transgendered individuals also increased in the last year with up to 1,400 trans people receiving identity cards. In terms of media, there has been an increase in the number of trans people in local film and television, as well as being provided with the opportunity to host shows.

Although change is slow and gradual, it might not be inaccurate to say that Pakistan is moving towards in a progressive direction with regards to transgender rights. Having said that, the country still has an awfully long way to go and the wounds of the muddied past with this marginalised group will not be easy to heal.

Pakistan’s transgender population are entitled to protection and affirmation of their rights. This requires not just strong political will but also unbiased, sensitised implementation of the law to ensure they can lead safe and secure lives as average citizens in the same system as everyone else — a right they have been denied for far too long.

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