Pakistan is set to make history as it allows transgender citizens to run for public office for the first time in its nation’s history. Two of the 13 Pakistan transgender politicians running in the July 25 National Election will compete for seats in the country’s General Assembly. The rest of the candidates will run for seats in provincial governments throughout the country, according to the All Pakistan Transgender Election Network (APTEN).
Qamar Naseem, a member of the Chief Minister’s Special Community on Rights of the Transgender Persons, says the Election Commission of Pakistan Act of 2017 includes transgender people as members of the “vulnerable community,” giving them the right to bypass voting lines and be given first priority in voting stations.
“It is about time that the transgender community of Pakistan has rightful representation,” Naseem says.
The need for increased trans political representation has come about at a time when transgender Pakistanis have just won more nationwide civil rights (even more rights than their American counterparts have) and yet still face anti-trans discrimination and violence nationwide.
Real progress amid transphobic violence
In early May 2018, the country’s trans activists celebrated the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill of 2017 which allows trans Pakistanis to change their government ID without requiring medical pre-approval; forbids anti-trans discrimination in employment, housing, political participation and public accommodations; increases penalties for anti-trans violence; and requires trans-sensitivity training and separate holding facilities in local jails (though it’s unclear whether this will amount to solitary confinement).
And yet, even though trans individuals in Pakistan officially now enjoy more rights than than trans people in the United States, trans Pakistainis still face widespread familial rejection, workplace discrimination and public violence. Mere days before that bill was voted into law, a trans woman was shot and killed in the country’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She was the 57th trans woman to be killed in Pakistan since 2015.
Human Rights Watch says Pakistan’s hospitals often refuse to treat trans victims of violence, and police often refuse to investigate attacks on trans people, even going so far as to mock, sexually degrade and humiliate trans people who seek their help.
And yet, this year has also brought other progress for Pakistani trans acceptance. In February trans people were officially accepted into the Pakistan Boy Scouts Association, and in April the country saw its first-ever trans school and trans retirement home both open.
A TV station in Pakistan also just hired its first-ever transgender reporter, a 21-year-old former model named Marvia Malik. 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.