As per the 6th Population and Housing Consensus released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) in August 2017, the country’s transgender population stands at 10,418 people – 0.005% of the total population of Pakistan. While this statistic was vehemently denied by activists, who claimed that according to an estimate there are more than one million transgender people in Pakistan, with 5,000 to 10,000 living in just the twin cities alone.
Known more commonly as “Khusras”, “Khwaja Sira”, or “Hijra”; transgenders are either revered or feared in Pakistan. Suspicion reigns within Pakistani society and Transgenders are equally feared or revered, depending on which side of the Suspicion-Spectrum the person lies. They are feared because no one wants to be at the receiving end of their curse, should they be involuntarily offended. Due to the social ostracization, the Transgenders in Pakistan have formed their own community. They face various issues such as abandonment by close friends and family, lack of proper work, lack of medical and health facilities and lack of education, among other things. As a result of which they either beg for food, or work as sex workers to make ends meet.
Transgenders are subject to violence and in most cases, they go unreported. Harassment (be it sexual or otherwise) is a large part of their daily lives, be it at the hands on common people, medico-legal officers or even security personnel.
According to a 2017 report published by Aawaz, Trans-Action Alliance/Blue Veins 46 killings of transgenders and 300 violent attacks on transgenders have taken place across the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the space of one year, from January 2015 to July 2016. In Punjab Province of Pakistan, 70 instances of domestic abuse were documented in 2015. Further, the map study revealed that a staggering 82% of transgenders had suffered sexual abuse in their childhood.
No specific data on murders, violent assault or domestic abuse was available from any organization based in the province Sindh.
Despite the myriad problems which the transgender community has been facing, things are changing for the better. They are slowly getting acceptance within society. A Transwoman was hired as a newscaster in Kohinoor News Channel. She was also the first transgender to walk the ramp at a Pakistani Fashion Show.
A trans-girl was recently hired as a waiter in a local restaurant and yet another transgender woman by the name of Kami Sid joined the Fashion Industry. In the latest season of Coke Studio, a musical television series in Pakistan, a transgender singer has been given a chance to sing along with the prominent singers of Pakistan.
Legal Status of Transgenders in Pakistan:
In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered that Computerized National Identity Cards be given to Transgenders so they can be distinctly identified. In 2017, Pakistani celebrities raised awareness regarding the plight of transgenders by participating in a social media campaign. The same year, transgenders were included for the first time in country’s national census. A separate category in the census form was created just for them*. During the same year, Government of Pakistan issued a passport with the transgender category.
Yet another milestone was achieved in the year 2017 when the Government of Pakistan took the step to legally recognize transgenders and, later this year, the first bill safeguarding rights of transgender persons bill was introduced in the Senate (Upper House of the Parliament) which was approved by the National Assembly (Lower House of the Parliament) on May 8th, 2018.
Under Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017, transgenders now can self-identify themselves, which will be enough for them to acquire documents with their specified gender on it. For identification as transgender, they no longer need to go through medico-legal officers’ approval. Previously, they were prone to face harassment at the hands of medical officers. Moreover, they will have their own separate rooms in prisons, and will not be forced to share their space with other male or female prisoners. Transgenders will be eligible to vote as transgender persons for the first time in the history of Pakistan**. While, they were eligible to vote previously also. Earlier, transgenders were issued driving licenses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan only but under this bill, they will be able to acquire driver’s licenses across the country.
Under this bill, discriminating against transgenders is a criminal act. The government of Pakistan will take steps to secure effective and full participation of transgenders and ensure their inclusion in the society. This bill has granted transgenders the rights to inherit, get an education, the right to health, and right to gain lawful employment. Finally, aside from the resources available under the Constitution, the Code of Criminal/Civil Procedure and/or Pakistan Penal Code, the aggrieved transgender victim will have the right to lodge a complaint.
*According to the latest population census, Pakistan’s total population of transgenders is 10, 418. However, the community rejected the census figure and said that it was much higher than the figure given in the official census report.
**During last elections (25th July 2018), Transgenders voted as transgender persons and 13 transgenders contested general elections for different national and provincial assembly seats.