In Pakistan, which is deeply Islamic and conservative in terms of gender roles, transgender people belong to the social underclass. Various articles, including those published on the website of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) or the Deutsche Welle internet portal for the promotion of dialogue with Islamic culture qantara.de, describe the extent of discrimination and exclusion of transgender people, which often begins at a young age with exclusion from the family circle.1 Living in small communities, they often have to resort to begging and prostitution to earn money. A 2016 article published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health estimates the number of transgender sex workers in Pakistan at 42,887, of whom 5.2 percent are infected with HIV.2 According to the 2017 Census of Pakistan, a total of about 50,000 transgender people live in Pakistan.3 Other public organizations and activist associations estimate this number as unreliable and assume that there are up to 500,000 transgender people in the country, which is 0.24 percent of a total population of about 201 million.

This is accompanied by exclusion, harassment and violence that transgender people suffer in everyday life from the majority society, as well as from the police and other security forces. The Amnesty International Report 2017 reports, among other things, of a gang rape that took place in September 2017: Five men attacked a house inhabited by transgender people in Karachi, raped two of the women and committed other sexualized acts of violence.4 According to the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TDoR 2017 Update, the number of transsexual deaths in Pakistan between 2008 and 2017 is 44.5 This is contradicted by the statement of a representative of the Law and Justice Commission in Pakistan, according to which 500 transgender people were killed between 2015 and 2018 alone.

Historically, transsexuality has widely ramified roots in Southeast Asia. According to popular belief, it was transgender people who, because of their loyalty to the Hindu god Rama, received the gift of being able to pronounce blessings and curses from him. For this reason, hijras or Khwaja seras, as they are called in Pakistan's national language Urdu, are still invited to weddings or birthday parties to dance in colorful women's dresses and to offer good wishes.6 The traditional collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, the hadith, also speaks of a transgender named Heet.7

Despite their popular, religious and historical links, transgender people were only included for the first time in the 2017 census - an important milestone for social recognition.8 At the bureaucratic level, the government already made it possible, starting in 2009, to specify a third gender in the identity card.9 Barely four years later, transgender people were recognized as equal citizens by the Supreme Court, which granted them, among other things, the right to inheritance, protection from police violence, education and professional employment.10 The latter also includes the freedom to run for public office and to work. In March 2018, the provisions were laid down in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018.11 Under this Act, transgender persons are also entitled to be recognized as per his or her self-perceived gender (Chapter 3, 3rd (1)). This means that a biological man can be a woman in his identity card, just as someone with a female gender can officially register as a man.

1 Qantara.de: Transgender in Pakistan – Menschenrechte einer Minderheit
2 The transgender prostitution: Threat to the rise of AIDS in Pakistan
3 Pakistan Bureau of Statistics: 2017 Census of Pakistan
4 Amnesty International Report 2017: Pakistan 2017/18
5 Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TDoR 2017 Update
6 Qantara.de: Transgender-Aktivismus in Pakistan – Das dynamische dritte Geschlecht
7 The Guardian: Once ostracised, now Pakistani transgender people are running for parliament
8 Pakistanportal.eu: Pakistan berücksichtigt Transgender-Community bei Volkszählung
9 The Guardian: Pakistan Transgender Hijra Third Sex
10 Qantara.de: Transgender rights – Pakistans’s Hijra hold their heads high
11 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018

Text: Lilian Faye Landesvatter