Sailing through dire straits


Despite recognition by the Supreme Court in 2009 that under Pakistan’s constitution transgender individuals are entitled to all legal and constitutional rights like every other citizen of the country, the fact is that the transgender individuals continue to face growing discrimination, violence and harassment in all spheres of life.
A case in point is the recent killing of a transgender person in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has again shone a spotlight on the harsh realities of life for this marginalized community. It is clear that the transgender individuals in the country live in poverty and most often they are left to sail through the dire straits to survive the discrimination when they are disowned by their families for fear of soiling their reputation or status in the society. And, then, it gets more difficult for them to find a safe place to live in.
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and independent sources, 100 transgender persons have been killed between 2005 and 2022 in Pakistan and two cases have emerged in 2023. In the same period, they say, more than 2000 members of the community have been subjected to violence.
Sadly enough, the incidents of transgender individuals being attacked or killed continue to make headlines in the mainstream media and social media networks. The activists and organizations working for the rights of the community say that these incidents mainly go unreported or they are grossly misreported. Unfortunately, in our society where transgender persons are pruned by family and largely by society, even in death they cannot hope to treated as equal citizens.
The situation is particularly dire for transgender individuals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where a law passed in 2018 requires transgender individuals to register with the government and undergo invasive medical examinations to be recognized as a transgender person. This law has been widely criticized for violating transgender individuals’ privacy and dignity. According to TransAction Alliance, a Pakistani organization that advocates transgender persons’ rights, at least 64 transgender individuals were murdered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone between 2015 and 2021.
Despite these challenges, transgender individuals in Pakistan have organized and mobilized to fight for their rights. A number of organizations have been working tirelessly to advocate the rights of transgender individuals in the country. The government has taken some steps to address the issues facing transgender individuals, such as allowing them to have Computerized National Identity Cards and vote in 2018. However, more is needed to be done to protect their rights and ensure that they have access to basic services such as healthcare and education. There needs to be greater public awareness of the issues facing the transgender community to encourage the citizenry to proactively invite transgender persons into the mainstream society.
The state must step in by protecting and supporting the transgender community as well as by providing them material resources to hire strong legal counsels to prosecute the attackers.
It is important for the government and society as a whole to recognize their rights and work to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for them.