Federal Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Chairperson of BISP Shazia Marri has announced the start of the Benzair Kafalat Programme, under which transgender persons will need to register themselves with the programme and will be given Rs7000 in cash each month. This is a step forward in helping the struggling transgender community in the country who not only face immense violence in their daily lives but are also subjected to blatant discrimination when it comes to the most basic of rights. While such cash programmes are a necessary affirmative action to help out transgnder persons, a lot more needs to be done to bring them into the mainstream of rights and a dignified living. Over the past five years, we have seen growing violence towards transgender persons, who have been killed in large numbers in Peshawar and other cities.
The brutal murders of transgender men and women only serve as a grisly reminder of how far we have still to go before all citizens of Pakistan enjoy equal rights and protection under the law. The problem is not just one of law enforcement and a lack of official action. The reason attacks on transgender persons are so common – as are the discriminations against them – is because the perpetrators feel they have immunity for their actions. It is obvious that legislation is not enough on its own, and while a few transgender icons have moved into major roles in life, the number is too limited while many still live as they did before: amidst poverty and neglect, often reducued to symbols of mockery.
While laws are meaningful and important, more needs to be done and protection ensured for transgender persons, no matter where they live and what they do. There also has to be wider acceptance for them in the workplace. We already saw how the 2017 census undercounted the community; this is just one way an entire community is relegated to a secondary status in society. The brutalities transgender persons go through on a daily basis and the increasing violent attacks on them, especially in recent years, show that we clearly still have a very long way to go. While the grant of identity cards and other measures to mainstream the community was obviously a positive step, far more needs to be done to make transmen and women acceptable. One step towards helping them is ensuring they are not relegated to a life of complete poverty. In that, the BISP step is indeed a welcome one.