Unregistered, unheard: elections and transgender exclusion

Not registered with NADRA poses a barrier for transgender individuals to participate in the electoral process

Asad Zia December 24, 2023


The busy streets outside Iqbal Plaza on Dalazak Road in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, witness a daily spectacle. Scores of men, predominantly young, gather on the footpaths, on their motorbikes, and in their parked cars. At the plaza's entrance, transgender individuals, dressed in female attire and heavy makeup, beckon the onlookers. This carnivalesque scene is routine in these parts. This is life for Naina, a transgender person belonging to the area.

Poverty confines many transgender individuals to traditional sources of income, such as engaging in sex work or participating in wedding dances. Lack of awareness in this marginalised community curtails any aspirations of rising above their circumstances. For instance, Naina does not know or care who the current chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is. Neither is the right to vote an essential freedom for her to exercise. Naina responds with laughter when asked about the upcoming elections. "What do I have to do with elections? It's not our business," she jokes. Her disinterest in politics reflects a broader issue within the transgender community in Pakistan.

The 2017 Population and Housing Census in Pakistan reported a total transgender population of 21,774, with 55.12 per cent residing in urban areas and 44.88 per cent in rural regions. In KP, 1,999 transgender individuals face challenges in society stemming from a lack of National Identity Cards (NICs).

According to TransAction Alliance, the first organisation to represent transgender people in the province, out of 9,000 to 10,000 transgender people residing in KP, only around 400 are registered by NADRA, and even fewer possess NICs. As a result, many are denied the right to government facilities, including healthcare, licences, and the right to vote.

Farzana Jan, president of the TransAction Alliance in KP, said that the absence of NICs poses a significant barrier for transgender individuals in participating in the electoral process. The recent policy changes and a ruling by the Federal Sharia Court, potentially limit their ability to exercise their electoral rights. Jan highlights the lack of awareness among election officials and policymakers about the rights and needs of the transgender community. She stresses the importance of providing an environment free from harassment at polling stations.

According to an official in the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office in Peshawar Faisal Khan, a very small number of transgender individuals come for registration due to fear. He said that the registration office deals with them on a priority basis. “Previously, obtaining an NIC was a difficult process, but now it is easy and simple for them,” he said. The NADRA mobile van also visits different parts of the province to provide registration facilities to the marginalized community, he added.

Yet, several hurdles stand in the way for the transgender community to enter politics. Jan explained that the majority of transgender individuals leave their homes due to the non-acceptance of their families. “Their parents have disowned them, and they have rushed to a safe place for their survival. Some [transgedners] I knew received death threats from their own families,” Jan said. Fearing the wrath of their families, they are not willing to reveal their real names and identity.

Jan said that the second problem is the community not accepting them. “If a transgender wants to contest an election, who will give vote for them? They are not accepted by the community members as a normal person,” Jan shared. They are treated no less than animals. “People pass negative comments on them and call them very bad names,” she said. “It is impossible at every level for them to take part in politics. This community does not accept transgender individuals, and that’s why transgender individuals have zero interest in politics.”

Qamar Naseem, a transgender rights activist, points out that although the 2017 Election Commission Act granted transgender individuals the right to vote, their names are registered with their original gender. He underscored the absence of transgender individuals in political parties and the lack of specific quotas for transgender representation in election commission roles. He said that if there was a reserved seat for the transgender community, it would encourage them to take part in political activities.

Muhammad Atif Haleem, the president of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's Trade Wing KP, asserts that their party provides equal opportunities for everyone. However, he acknowledges the challenges faced by the transgender community and urged NADRA and the Election Commission to facilitate their registration and provide necessary facilities during elections.

Awami National Party (ANP) District Nazim Saleem Shah said that ANP wanted to give rights to everyone despite gender. He said that the party encourages transgender people to come forward and take part in political activities. He demanded the ECP to do more work to spread awareness of the transgender community so that a maximum number of this community could participate in the upcoming elections.

The ECP has formulated the Gender Mainstreaming and Social Inclusion Framework (GMSIF), covering Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The framework aims to address issues related to voter registration, casting votes, and providing postal ballot facilities to persons with disabilities, as well as transgender individuals.

The Gender and Disability Electoral Working Group, comprising civil society organisations advocating for the rights of women, persons with disabilities, and transgender individuals, regularly collaborates with the election commission. Monthly meetings across the provinces facilitate the discussion of challenges and solutions.

Assistant Director Election Commission of Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Syed Aun Ahmad said that the election commission conducts gender-sensitive voter information campaigns using various media platforms. He emphasised the importance of accessible polling stations and provided special arrangements for women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, and transgender individuals. With the support of partner organisations, they have arranged awareness sessions in different parts of KP, including the merged districts’ marginalised communities.

Ahmad said that they are trying their best to motivate a large portion of people in the province regarding the election process and to register their vote. NADRA has arranged camps and its mobile van visits the area to provide registration services. He urged political parties to create awareness regarding the importance of their vote and to motivate them to register with NADRA as soon as possible.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ