A TV station in Pakistan just hired its first-ever transgender reporter, a 21-year-old former model named Marvia Malik. As the first Pakistani trans reporter on television, Malik represents an important step forward for trans visibility in a country that remains plagued by anti-trans discrimination and violence despite its many pro-trans policies.
A former journalism graduate, Malik anchored her first news program on Friday night after three months of broadcast training. She says she hopes her TV appearances will help reduce transphobia in her country.
“My family knows I have modeled and they know that I work as a newscaster,” Malik tells the BBC. “It’s the age of social media, and there’s nothing that my family doesn’t know. But they have still disowned me [for being trans].”
Malik says she was thrown out by her family in the 10th grade. She studied cosmetology and immediately afterwards began working at a beauty salon. She eventually earned her Bachelor’s in Mass Communication from Punjab University and wants a journalism Master’s degree.
Except for becoming a beauty model, Marvia Malik says her story is really no different from that of Pakistan’s many Hijras, South Asian transgender individuals recognized as third gender. Last year Pakistan counted 10,418 trans people in its national census (though local trans people estimate the number is likely 100 times higher).
Nevertheless, these trans individuals still face widespread familial rejection, workplace discrimination and public violence, despite trans people in Pakistan officially having more rights than than trans people in the United States. As a result, hijras often live on the margins of society, working as beggars, dancers or sex workers.
And yet, in 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that trans people could get a “third gender” listed on their passports and IDs if they wanted, and just this month the country’s Senate unanimously approved a bill protecting trans rights that, if approved by the House, would no longer require trans people to have their gender confirmed by a medical examiner.
Pakistan’s trans community have organized to help pass this bill in hopes it will improve their lot in a conservative Muslim society.