Due to the unlawful imprisonment of transgender activist and social rights sensation Julie Khan, the Pakistani media has been blowing up with discussions of gender identity and advocating for transgender rights. A few weeks ago, the movement gained significance, and Julie's freedom was restored.
In the past few years, the fights for transgender rights has come a long way in Pakistan. Efforts for mainstreaming transgender persons have shown progress through judicial instruments and legislative decisions. Although efforts have been made to recognize their marginalisation and introduction of acts are steps towards equality, this is not enough to propagate progressiveness. We must not ignore the factor of implementation.
An organisation run by trans women and tirelessly striving for trans rights in Pakistan is the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA). They have raised their voice, asking to be provided socio-political rights, and acceptance of their identity as equal citizens of the state by the society at large. We’ve interviewed two members- Zehrish Khan, the project manager and Sapna Rajput, a field worker at GIA.
Q. What have been the effects on the transgender community due to COVID?
Zehrish: The trans community has been adversely impacted because several community members have gone homeless. We have asked the government to do something but received no support. Local NGOs helped us but there was also little effectiveness.
Sapna: During COVID-19, I alongside other members suffered a lot. It became harder for many community members to earn from servicing at weddings. We couldn't reach out to NGOs or government agencies for funding, because we were too busy trying to distribute rations. Many community members couldn’t even afford 1 meal a day, this was a crisis we have never witnessed before.
Q. Do you think government and legislation has reduced stigma for the trans community or is more recognition needed?
Zehrish: Definitely greater recognition is needed. Despite the law, the khuwajasirah community is refused jobs, healthcare and continues to be targeted.
Sapna: The law is there, but no implementation. It is just us NGOs that are trying to work for the betterment of the khuwajasirah community
Q. What change would you hope to see?
Zehrish: We want greater representation of trans people in the media, police, schools and healthcare systems. We want the government to support us in trying to fight gender based violence
Sapna: I want transgenders to be able to educate themselves. Today there is a cost. If we educate ourselves we cannot earn or work.
In conclusion, while trans movements in the media and legislation to safeguard trans rights are equipping the population to walk towards progressiveness, we must recognise this alone is not enough to implement equality. In order for trans-persons to gain acceptance in mainstream society, we must not ignore the factor of implementation. As citizens are supporters of equal rights, it is our duty to set a precedent.