The word transgender is loosely used in Pakistan. In this nation, transgender people are referred to as individuals of the third gender. There are 500,000 estimated transgender individuals in Pakistan. The list includes eunuchs, hermaphrodites, crossdressers, and transvestites. For the better part of the last century, transgenders in Pakistan have lived in hiding. These people were never considered an equal part of the society and, even to this day, transgenders are fighting tooth and nail to receive basic human rights in this nation.
These people are recognized by the name hijra which is a south-Asian word that loosely translates into a transgender woman.
23-Year-Old Transgender Activist Alesha
When I talk about basic human rights, it includes medical care. The hospitals in Pakistan, that comfort the masses living in this country, are gender segregated medical wards. In May of 2016, a 23-year-old activist belonging to the transgender community was shot 6 times by a local gang. Upon being shot, she was rushed to the nearest hospital. It was not the first time for a transgender living in Pakistan to be attacked in such a manner. What is sad is the fact that transgenders are actively harassed and targeted for being “different” from the rest.
This transgender girl, named Alesha, was bleeding in the hospital for an hour simply because the doctors could not decide whether to put her in the male medical ward or into the women’s. After hours of being poked and prodded, Alesha was asked the questions about whether her breasts were real or not. Doctors and nurses didn’t fail to ask Alesha if she provides sexual services to the people she dances for at events. Alesha was finally transferred to a VIP ward at the Lady Reading Hospital upon direct instructions from the governor of the state of Khyber Pakhtunknwa.
There, she died after hours of putting up a brave fight.
Supposed Legal Rights
In 2012, the former Chief of Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, stated that every member of the transgender community is entitled to receive the rights that all the other citizens of Pakistan receive. He said they are entitled to receive their inheritances as well since most transgender individuals are cast out of their families at an early age. This would provide them with the financial security that they need.
Transgenders: Paper versus Reality
What story a piece of paper tells, however, is different from reality. Transgenders are first abandoned by their own blood families before they are shunned by the rest of the world. Since they are ridiculed everywhere they go, they don’t get the opportunity to receive regular education in Pakistan. This eventually means that the only job-related options they have left are either as dancers or singers.
Abandoned or Lucky?
What baffles me about this nation is this. Families abandon their own simply because they are transgenders. At the same time, they still invite transgenders when a new “normal” child is born into the family. They view it as “good luck” to have a transgender visit and bless a new baby in the family. For a community the nation laughs at, isn’t this fact completely contradictory?
A New Era for Transgenders
Progress, I suppose, is slow and steady when it comes to anything in Pakistan. A university called Allama Iqbal Open University has recently decided to open its gates to the transgender community by giving it a chance to avail free education starting from matriculation, going up to a PhD. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, members of the transgender community will be able to avail one basic human right if not another and that is education.
While transgenders are still denied proper medical care, they will at least get a chance to study. They have the option to choose whether they want to study from the comfort of their own homes or from the university grounds. They will receive free books and all the necessary tools they require to study.
The hospitals that refuse to treat transgender patients may very well find themselves in competition one day. In competition against hospitals created by members of the transgender community, simply because they had the knowledge and compassion no one else did before them. And that, I think, is what the word hope means.
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