When Rifee Khan approached a premier spoken English training institute in Karachi, it refused to enrol her as she was a transgender. The institute instead suggested that she take private lessons as the families of other students would object to her presence.
Ms Khan, who works for the Gender Interactive Alliance, was in tears as she narrated the incident at a workshop on Monday, organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). “I am educated. I have a double M.A., yet this is how I was treated,” she said.
Ms Khan is among the three members of the transgender community – the other two being Mazhar Anjum and Muskan – who, in an unprecedented step, were offered jobs by the Sindh government a few days ago.
The government is also organising a vocational training workshop for the transgender community on February 20.
The Gender Interactive Alliance has demanded that a member of the community be nominated to provincial assemblies.
Despite a landmark Supreme Court judgment that recognised the transgenders’ right to equality and inheritance, and their right to be registered as the third gender or “khwaja seras” in the National Database and Registration Authority, the community faces discrimination.
Muhammad Majid Bashir, a senior advocate, said the landmark 2011 verdict allowed a third gender category on national identity cards, gave transgenders a legal share in family inheritance, reserved two per cent quota in jobs in all sectors and gave them the right to vote in the elections.
But as Almas Boby of the Transgender Foundation pointed out, the biggest issue for the community is social acceptance. She could not study beyond matriculation due to social pressure.
However, separate schools for transgenders will isolate the community further, she said. “Please accept us and let us be part of society.”
Family support crucial
Ms Khan said families should support children who have a different sexual orientation. Her family supported her which is why she could study. But many families disowned their children who had no option but to beg or dance for a livelihood, she lamented.
Jannat Ali, who has an MBA and heads the Khwaja Sera Society, runs a literary project which imparts teaching skills to young people so that they don’t have to beg on the streets. She says it is difficult for transgenders to continue schooling, thanks to the social attitude – children are taunted and many are reluctant to go to school.
The access of the community to health care is a challenge too, said Ms Khan. “We are not even allowed to stand in queues, how can we get treatment?”
For the 1.5 million transgender community, social acceptance is certainly a long way off.