When can we expect to see improvements in the circumstances of transgender individuals?

During my school and college days, I endured relentless teasing from my peers, who mockingly called me “Oi Allah Baji.” Lacking confidence in my own identity, I found myself unable to stand up to their taunts. Often, I would return home in tears, only to find that no one had the time to comfort me. Thankfully, after completing my matriculation, I felt as though I had been liberated from a prison.

Filled with a passion for education and hopeful that college would bring a more enlightened environment, I entered with high expectations. However, instead of finding understanding classmates, I encountered further harassment and bullying. Escaping their torment seemed impossible, and even the teachers didn’t hesitate to make disparaging remarks. Ultimately, I made the painful decision to drop out of college. Though I managed to pass my exams through sheer determination, I regretted abandoning my pursuit of further education.

Ahmad (a pseudonym) shared his story with me during a chance encounter at a park, where he was caring for his brother and sister’s children. Hailing from a middle-class family in Karachi, Ahmad is the youngest of ten siblings and was born as a eunuch. He recalls that while he didn’t face much discrimination in his early childhood, things took a turn for the worse as he reached adolescence. Classmates began to subject him to cruel taunts and derogatory labels like “Khosra” and “Hejra,” often demanding that he dance for their amusement. These experiences left him deeply scarred, with no solace to be found at home either, where he faced similar disrespect and neglect from his own family.

Despite his efforts to find refuge in education, Ahmad’s aspirations were dashed by the relentless harassment and discrimination he faced both inside and outside the classroom. His story echoes that of countless others like him, who long for nothing more than the opportunity to pursue education and lead dignified lives.

In 2018, the National Assembly passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, aimed at criminalizing discrimination, violence, and harassment against transgender individuals in various settings. However, concerns have been raised about the definition of transgender and the medical treatment provisions within the act. Nevertheless, many transgender individuals, like Ahmad, continue to face barriers to education and employment, despite legal protections and government initiatives aimed at inclusion and equality.

Government Employment Quota for Transgender Individuals

When we inquired why Ahmed hadn’t pursued a government job, he revealed that he had applied in several places. He even approached transgender representatives, who often advocate for their community in the media, to seek employment opportunities, but to no avail.

Ahmed expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of prominent figures within his community, suggesting that the intentions of these self-proclaimed representatives were dubious. Despite legislative measures favoring transgender rights over the past fifteen years, Ahmed noted a lack of substantial change. He accused the representatives of misappropriating resources allocated for vocational training initiatives, leaving many transgender individuals without access to valuable skills and opportunities for employment.

Transgender rights activist Bandia Rana recalled promises made by the Supreme Court in 2009 regarding a 2 percent job quota for transgender individuals, as well as announcements by former Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and the Inspector General of Sindh Police regarding job quotas, which she claimed were not fulfilled. She emphasized the need for job advertisements to explicitly welcome transgender applicants, asserting that the absence of such clarity discourages transgender individuals from applying.

Rana advocated for inclusivity rather than segregation, proposing scholarships for transgender individuals to facilitate their integration into mainstream educational institutions. She underscored the importance of societal recognition and cited disparities between official census data and estimates provided by organizations like the Jaya Foundation, suggesting an underrepresentation of transgender individuals in official records.

Regarding vocational training institutes established for transgender individuals, Rana explained that while efforts were made to provide courses and stipends, many transgender individuals found the stipend insufficient to cover their expenses. Additionally, concerns were raised about the practicality of acquiring vocational skills without corresponding job opportunities. Despite these challenges, individuals like Ahmed persevered, acquiring sewing skills independently and establishing successful businesses.

Ahmed’s journey exemplifies resilience and determination in the face of societal prejudice. Despite encountering mockery and discrimination, he has carved out a path for himself as a skilled entrepreneur, challenging traditional stereotypes surrounding transgender individuals. However, the persistence of societal biases raises questions about the future prospects for transgender women and the need for continued advocacy and awareness efforts.

What are the Solutions?

Psychologist, gender specialist, and consultant Saira Ali suggests that one of the most common mistakes parents make is hiding their children’s gender identity from the world, depriving them of the opportunity to embrace their true selves. Instead, she advises parents not to send such children to school until they are around seven years old, as this is when brain development is at its peak. During these early years, engaging children in educational activities at home, such as drawing, singing, storytelling, and playing with toys, can foster self-confidence and strengthen the bond between children and their families. This early trust and confidence in their family’s support will serve as a foundation for their emotional well-being.

At the age of seven, parents should mentally prepare their children for school, introducing them to the concept of diversity through stories and educating them about personal boundaries, such as good and bad touch. By taking these steps, children will enter school equipped to handle any bullying or discrimination they may face, knowing that their family stands by them. Encouraging physical exercise from a young age can also help channel their energy positively and manage emotions like anger and anxiety.

However, despite legislative advancements over the past fifteen years, there has been little change in the lives of transgender individuals and societal attitudes towards them. Journalist Sheema Siddiqui attributes this to the lack of enforcement of laws and the failure of transgender representatives to advocate strongly for their community’s rights to dignified employment. Siddiqui emphasizes the importance of raising awareness not only through media platforms but also through religious institutions, such as mosques, to foster a more inclusive society where transgender individuals are recognized and respected as equal human beings.

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