While the province has hit the pedal on its inoculation programme, now targeting those aged 50 and above, one disenfranchised stratum still complains of being left dreaming of vaccine access.
According to representatives of Punjab’s Khawaja Sira community, their elderly have been kept on the far fringes of immunisation, with little to no efforts of inclusion being extended to the gender minority.
Government spokesperson on the matter however maintained that association with any community, regardless of gender, has no bearing on the vaccination process. “Age is the only deciding factor. If you fall within the approved age bracket, you can come get the vaccine, same as everyone else, no matter what gender you belong to,” the officer corroborated.
In response to government claims, Pakistan Khowaja Sira Society Spokesperson Za’naiya Chaudhry, said that although there are no official statistics on the country’s transgender population, rough estimates suggest a figure close to one million. These include thousands of senior Khowaja Siras, suffering from various ailments of old age, who have remained confine to the four walls of their homes and camps during the pandemic. “There are dozens of our community members here in Lahore who are aged 50 and above, but not a single one of them has been vaccinated. The government has made no effort to extend any information about the inoculation plan to us, and a great majority of our community members have no idea how the process works,” protested Chaudhry.
According to Jannat Ali, the country’s first transgender gold medalist, many in her community have different health risks and reservations as compared to cis-gendered men and women. “Yet however, whenever there is a notification about health facilities in the country, it always happens to be specifically for cis-gendered people, while the transgender community continues to remain invisible to the policymakers,” Ali told lamentingly. “We have to be taken into account just like everyone else and the government has to mention us on the notifications. How else are we supposed to know where and when are we to get vaccinated?” she added.
Conversely, Social Welfare Department representatives revealed that continued efforts are being made on their end to ensure registration of all Khowaja Sira community members for ongoing inoculation, regarding which NGOs working on transgender rights will soon be informed.
Speaking on the matter, a representative of Akhuwwat, an organization working to provide medical facilities to transgenders in Punjab, shared that his organisation is currently working on creating better access to Covid-19 vaccines for Khowaja Siras.”We have some 2,000 registered community members on a monthly stipend, on hand. But we’ll require greater funds and resources if we are to reach the entire transgender community, towards which we are currently working,” he told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2021.