Pakistan is filled with people who each day wake up, drink a cup of chai, head out the front door, and strive to build a better life for themselves and their communities. From the halls of parliament and big business to the far-flung corners of this fascinating country, they try with determination to make a difference.
What drives them is a commitment to equality. It is the belief that no matter what part of Pakistan may be home, each and every person deserves equal opportunities, deserves safety, deserves respect.
We, the undersigned Ambassadors, High Commissioners and United Nations officials, wish to reflect on Pakistanis of different gender identities, and their friends and allies, who are making a difference.
The transgender community and other sexual minorities are smaller segments of this country’s population. We acknowledge the considerable debate about the number of transgender Pakistanis reported in the 2017 census. The efforts of both government officials and community leaders in analysing that process are welcome. We trust that thanks to these conversations the next census will fully satisfy everyone.
We also acknowledge the recently-passed bill on transgender rights. This legislation goes further than protections in many other countries, including some of our own, and offers an example to other governments to study. We applaud community members, activists, and politicians who raised their voices in this debate. It is healthy and constructive. It is a commendable and genuinely democratic action.
What excites us as guests in this country is that these various conversations help to place transgender Pakistanis on an equal footing with their fellow citizens. We see impassioned and empowered individuals standing up to say “I am also a Pakistani, I want to be counted!” and “I also live in this country, I want laws which work for me!”
Indeed, we see people of all ages and religions, hailing from different ethnic backgrounds and speaking various languages, actively contributing to this diverse society and seizing the fundamental equality guaranteed to all Pakistanis in the constitution.
Marvia Malik made international headlines a few weeks ago when she started as a news anchor at Kohinoor TV. You may have seen her on your television or smartphone. She is doing the same job as her peers. And every time she sits behind her news desk, she conveys to us that she is equal, because she, too, is helping explain the events of the day.
Kami Sid features in stunning photographs displaying the creativity of South Asian fashion. Pakistan’s first transgender model, she has overcome obstacles to join a very competitive industry. You may have seen her in a magazine wearing a fabulous sari. Every time she poses in front of the camera, she reminds us that she is equal because she, too, encapsulates beauty.
In 2013, Bindiya Rana and several other transgender candidates stood for election to Pakistan’s legislative bodies. You may see their names again on your ballot paper in a few months. Regardless of the result, when they fill out their candidacy nomination papers, they affirm that they are equal. They, too, have ideas for how best to govern Pakistan.
The list of transgender people claiming their equality goes on and includes university lecturers, business entrepreneurs, and more. There is the actress rehearsing her lines before taking to the stage. There is the student frantically memorising dates before his university exam. The government worker helping a colleague because the printer has jammed. The culinary trainee quietly cursing after she burns her finger on a hot frying pan for the third time.
We cannot and must not ignore the ongoing challenges and, indeed, the acts of violence which many Pakistanis face. Crimes must be reported. Media have begun to cover these stories, which is welcome. Further police engagement with transgender communities will build mutual trust and understanding.
Discrimination against transgender people and other sexual minorities is real, in Pakistan and around the world. It is discussed on the streets of Faisalabad and Hyderabad and debated at the Human Rights Committee in Geneva. We cannot afford to ignore the damage that persecution inflicts if we are to strengthen our societies. We must pursue equal rights for all.
This is why each and every time a new CNIC or passport is issued, and skills-based training programmes or formal employment are offered, it is worth celebrating. These acts are individual steps leading to a better future and a more integrated society.
To the transgender citizens of Pakistan who find it difficult to walk out the front door and face the world each day, we have a simple message: please find the strength to keep going. Every time you do walk out that door and go about your daily tasks, you demonstrate a simple truth — that transgenders are also citizens.
In every way that matters, you are not different. You are equal.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2018.