Islamabad: Though there’s no bar on the enrolment of transgender persons, the government educational institutions of Islamabad have never had a third-gender student on record.
And as the things are unlikely to change given the family rejection and social exclusion of transgender persons, the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) overseeing the local public sector schools and colleges has embarked on an unprecedented initiative to mainstream these castaways.
By issuing a circular, the directorate has formally directed all government educational institutions in the Islamabad Capital Territory to provide approaching transgender persons first with ‘equal enrolment opportunity without refusal’ and then with a dignified learning environment by educating other students and teachers about their rights. The initiative comes in line with the May 18 legislation by parliament, which criminalised ‘denial of, or discontinuation of, or unfair treatment’ of third genders in schools besides workplaces, public transport and health centres.
Under the FDE rules, only children of the federal government employees living in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and the residents of Islamabad are eligible for admission to the capital’s government schools and colleges. While reliable figures don’t exist on the population of Islamabad’s transgender citizens, the 2017 national census put the number at around 150, which is widely disputed by the community.
In the recent times, the country has shown progressive attitude towards transgender persons. An NGO opened the country’s first school for transgender persons in Lahore offering 12 years of education from primary level to college and technical and vocational courses, while a news channel employed the country’s first transgender anchor.
Also, 13 transgender persons contested the recent general elections in the country with Nadeem Kashish attracting media attention by challenging current premier Imran Khan and his predecessor Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the main Islamabad constituency. FDE director general Hasnat Qureshi keeps his fingers crossed that the plan to educate third genders together with other students would steadily bring home the bacon.
“It’s an extraordinary step, which I strongly feel will slowly but surely help our schools attract trans and thus, ensuring their social inclusion and development,” he said. Qureshi also promised third genders a safe, discrimination-free and inclusive environment in schools and said those harassing or mistreating third genders on campus would be dealt with strictly.
Transgender rights activist Almas Bobby also welcomed her community’s mainstreaming by the FDE and said easy access to education would promise better professional choices to third genders, who had to beg, dance or resort to prostitution to make their ends meet for lack of education and training. She rejected the idea of separate schools for her community’s members saying they won’t consider themselves to be part of the normal society and would continue facing adjustment issue until they’re mainstreamed.
Teachers are however skeptical about the success of the FDE initiative insisting a good idea has been executed in haste without considering ground realities. Saying the existing school policies and practices are meant for girls and boys only, they fear that instead of a welcoming learning environment, the transgender students will face hostile colleagues, unsympathetic teachers and other staff members and bathroom problem.
A schoolteacher said currently, educational institutions were insensitive to the needs of transgender students. “Trans are shunned by own families and society and so, it is very difficult to mainstream them immediately as the people won’t accept it at once. It will happen but it will take time,” he said.
He feared that transgender students would be marginalized if tangible steps weren’t made by the directorate for their acceptance by colleagues and staff members. Federal Government College Teachers Association leader Professor Tahir Mahmood hailed the FDE initiative but said there was a need for providing specific support services to educational institutions for transgender students.
He also called for the massive awareness and training of teachers and students on how to take care of transgender students. “Schools and colleges need the society’s help and support to understand what is most important to make transgender students feel accepted.