LAHORE: For decades, transgender persons have been struggling for social acceptance, the absence of which has long deprived them of job opportunities. As a result, community members are left with no option but to live a derogatory life as second-class citizens, only earning through sex work, singing, dancing, and begging on the streets.
Lately, however, transgender individuals are gradually seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as growing awareness about their basic human rights, government measures, the efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the power of social media have paved the way for them to enter the workforce and earn a respectful living like other Pakistanis.
“Unlike the Western world, social acceptance has been and still is an uphill struggle for transgender individuals in Pakistan. The trend, however, is gradually changing in big cities as companies are opting for more inclusive hiring practices without discrimination,” Asif Shehzad, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gender Guardian – a Lahore-based NGO exclusively working for the labour rights of transgender individuals, told The Express Tribune.
Providing statistics, Shehzad said that according to the latest census, there are 10,418 transgender individuals in Pakistan.
“We do not think that the number is correct as there are many more people in the country who identify themselves as transgender individuals,” he said. “Since it is considered a social taboo, many people do not register themselves as transgender.”
In Pakistan, Punjab has the highest number of transgender persons, followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan.
Speaking about the gradual acceptance of transgender individuals in the workforce, Asif Shahzad said that the change is very slow, but unlike the past, people have started treating them in a better way. As a result, members of the transgender community have started feeling more comfortable about revealing their identity.
“Having said that, the general attitude of the masses towards the transgender community is still far from satisfactory as there is still a long way to go when it comes to acceptance and equality, especially in smaller cities and villages.”
Makeup artist Sania Abbasi, who conducts beautician courses for transgender individuals at Gender Guardian, said that her family and relatives always support and encourage her because she is working for a cause.
“I think social media has played a very important role in spreading awareness about the rights of the transgender community. After decades of struggle, the educated class, especially youngsters, have now started seeing transgender individuals as human beings,” she opined.
Speaking of the gradual shift towards acceptance, Khushboo, a transgender individual from Lahore, said that she has successfully passed some cooking courses and plans to work as a chef.
Narrating her story, she said that after the death of her parents, her siblings threw her out of the house because they were ashamed of having her around.
“I passed my matriculation exams with flying colours and I am now preparing for intermediate exams,” she said, adding that she has faced many problems during the submission of her examination form as the board does not have a separate column for transgender individuals to mark their gender identity.
“I am working part-time with an organisation in Lahore. Initially, people were hesitant to accept me but gradually, they are positively changing their attitude,” she said. “However, it still isn’t easy for me as many people bully me and also try to make inappropriate advances towards me. I hope things will change soon.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2019.