Realising khawaja sara/ Transgender rights in Pakistan
The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia serves to raise awareness and drive forward LGBTI rights world wide
Khawaja sara preferred current Urdu term for Transgender. Although the Hindi Hijra is still often and widely used across South East Asia it has taken a negative hue in some circles in Pakistan as of often the case as language becomes stigmatised and then shifts and adapts.
Across South East Asia are small signs of a return to equal recognition of khawaja sara rights. Pakistan is no exception. Recent events are cause for optimism in the Commonwealth.
According to Pakistan’s most recent census in 2017, which recorded the country’s transgender population for the first time, there are close to 10,000 individuals who identify as transgender across the country. Transgender people in Pakistan continue to experience violence and discrimination. The rate of transphobic murder in some areas, ostrisisation from their communities and routine discrimination are still common place. However, there is real cause for optimisim.
In the last year Pakistan has seen strides taken to secure khawaja sara rights. In the summer last year prominent activist successfully secured the first Pakistani passport to with an X to symbolise the third sex printed under the gender category of travel document. At the time this was recognised as a milestone but it may be more appropriate to think about it as a watershed.
A series of court rulingings have secured fundamental rights, such as inheritance, issuance, entitlement to jobs, along with protection from police harassment. These protections have been formally secured in law this month under The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill. While legal recognition is critical for equality there have also been important developments and signals in other areas of life:
- Media — In March Pakistan welcomed its first transgender news anchor to the screens. 21-year-old journalist is Marvia Malik joined the Lahore-based channel Kohenoor News with a vision of proving that people from the transgender community “are capable of any job, and can do anything they want.”
- Education — In April The Gender Guardian School opened its doors in Lahore/ The school has been specifically designed to support transgender people in their education and to gain vital skills for employment. There are plans in place for further schools in Islamabad and Karachi.
- Politics — Pakistan’s transgender community has launched a manifesto with 33 priorities to help secure more social and political rights. The manifesto aims to secure political representation and better legal protections. May has also seen the first transgender candidate announce her intention to stand in the coming elections.
Pakistan leading the world
One of the most critical parts of the new legislation is the extent to which it gives transgender people the right to self identify as such. This right is something which is being pressed for in and moved toward in some jurisdictions around the world such as Scotland, where the government is currently holding a public consultation. Typically transgender people are subject varying degrees of medical supervision before being able to legally change their recognised sex, if they even have the right to do so in the jurisdiction to begin with.