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The Hindu

Published Date: Feb 3, 2014

Long way for acceptance of transgenders in Pakistan

When Rifee Khan recently approached a premier English language speaking
training institute in Karachi, she was told that it could not enroll her
in their classes as she was a transgender. Instead the institute
suggested Khan take private lessons in learning spoken English because
the families of the other students would object to her presence.

Khan who works for the Gender Interactive Alliance was in tears as she
narrated this incident at a workshop on Monday organised by the
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). "I am an educated
person and have a double M. A., yet this is how they treated me," she
later said. Yet in an unprecedented step, Ms Khan is one of the three
transgenders to get jobs a few days ago in the Sindh government’s social
welfare department as office assistant. Two others Mazhar Anjum and
Muskan have also been given jobs.

The Sindh government is also organizing a vocational training workshop
for the transgender community on February 20. The Gender Interactive
Alliance is demanding that a member of the community be nominated to the
provincial assemblies so they can take up issues. Despite a landmark
Supreme court judgement which recognised their right to equality,
inheritance and to be registered as the third gender or "khwaja seras"
in the National Database and Registration Authority which issues the
identity cards, the community faces discrimination.

Muhammad Majid Bashir, a senior advocate said in 2011 a landmark Supreme
Court order allowed a third gender category on national identity cards,
gave transgenders a legal share of family inheritance, reserved 2 per
cent quota of jobs in all sectors and gave them the right to vote in
elections. The apex court order had opened a new era with job
opportunities and recognised existing Constitutional rights for them.
Almas Boby of the Transgender Foundation said the biggest issue is
social acceptance. She said she wanted to study beyond metric but
couldn’t go ahead due to social pressure. She was against separate
schools for transgenders as she felt it would isolate them further.
"Please accept us and let us be part of society," she said. The mindset
about transgenders needs to be changed and even the Supreme Court order
was not implemented. "We have to force our rights," she said adding that
the three jobs were given by the Sindh government only in February.

Khan called on families to support their children who had a different
sexual orientation. She said her family had supported her and so she
could study as much as she wanted. Many families disowned their children
and then they had little option but to beg or dance. Remember this is a
society which persecutes its women, so the transgenders are further
marginalized, she pointed out. Jannat Ali who has done her MBA and heads
the Khwaja Sera Society, said she ran a literary project which aimed at
teaching skills to young people so they didn’t have to beg on the
streets. She said it was difficult for transgenders to continue in
school due to stigma and prevalent attitudes. Children were taunted and
many were reluctant to study. Education was the only way they could
integrate and get jobs.

Even on the health front, Khan said when they went to hospitals, they
couldn’t stand in the male or female queues."We are asked to go here and
there. If we can’t even stand in a queue, how will we get treatment,"
she asked.

For the 1.5 million transgender community, social acceptance despite
court orders is a long way off. As Gulnaz, a researcher said, there is a
need to be sensitive and understand the community instead of driving
them to the fringes.