Violence against members of the transgender community thrives in the absence of effective legislation to protect them
The transgender community in Pakistan has always been vulnerable to exploitation and violence. However, there has been a marked surge in attacks against members of the community in recent months, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr Moiz Mehrub Awan, a transgender rights activist, says that transgender persons are at the receiving end of the society’s patriarchal values. “Using the data of Macrodot and World Bank, it turns out that the murder rate of transgender persons in KP is 15 times higher than that in El-Salvador - the country with the highest murder rate in the world,” he says.
According to the Blue Veins organisation, 91 transgender persons have been murdered in KP since 2015. Another local organisation, Trans Action has concluded that 479 attacks were reported in 2018 against trans-women in KP. These numbers are staggering, to say the least. Observers fear that if this issue is not given immediate attention, it could further exacerbate the situation in these areas.
Qamar Naseem, a member of KP Chief Minister’s Special Committee on Rights of Transgenders and a UNDPconsultant, says that most of the attacks have been perpetrated by the victims’ friends.
“68 out of the91 transgender persons murdered since 2015 have been by killed by their current or former intimate partnersand 10 by family members. Most of those targetted were trans-women,” he says.
Reem Sharif, an activist and one of the few transgender people working in a government office, highlights three root causes for the increase in violence: increased vulnerability, isolationand aggression.
She says that vulnerability is increased due to the three major occupations common in the transgender community: legally criminalised begging, prostitution and dancing.
According to a 2016 survey, 51 percent of the transgenderpersons earn a living by dancing, 15 percent from sex-work and 12 percent from begging. The community is one of the key populations impacted by the AIDS. Refusal to engage in unprotected sex-work leads to rape.
Reem believes that violence by intimate partners is the major reason for assault and increased murder rates of trans-women in Pakistan. Her opinion is backed by data provided by Qamar Naseem. While Naseem thinks of it as a type of honour killing, Reem sees this violence as being caused by a lack of legal protection by marriage for the transgender community. The lack of protection, she says, leads to societal isolation and a lack of consequences or impunity for the aggressors.
“Violence by intimate partners is the major reason for assault and increased murder rates of trans-women in Pakistan. This violence is caused by the lack of legal protection by marriage for the trans-community. The lack of protection leads to societal isolation, and a lack of consequences or impunity for the aggressors,” says Reem Sharif, a rights activist.
The legality of marriages with transgender persons has been debatedby some religious scholars. While this is far from becoming an everyday reality, she says, legalisation protecting such relations is important to provide the community urgent protection to prevent gender-based violence caused by intimate partners.
However, it will be impossible to achieve this protection until the stereotypes and taboos against the transgender community are overcome.
Reem says that objectification and the patriarchal patterns of the society are major factors towards the increased vulnerability of transgender persons, coupled with slow ideological changes. Rampant misogyny isdangerous not just for women in Pakistan but also for transgender people. Both are commonly seen not as human beings, but as objects without any regard for their emotional well-being.
She says patriarchal constructs direct men to remain “strong” and hide their emotions. This causes them to take harsh measures to reinforce their position and significance in society, thereby disregarding the voice of other marginalised communities whether women, transgender persons, children and men who are not ‘manly’ enough. This hampers mental development and accompanying progress.
The stereotypes against transgender community can be broken and the mind-setschanged by bringing them into mainstream occupations. Pakistan now has its first transgender doctor, Dr Sarah Gill; first transgender lawyer, Nisha Rao; and highly educated transgender people working in the legislative and enforcement authorities.They include Aisha Mughal, Dr Moiz Awan, Reem Sharif and Nayab Ali. However, improving education rates requires immediate focus. Open Democracy reports that 42 percent of the transgender people remains illiterate. This increased their vulnerability.
It is important to note here that Pakistan is one of the 12 countries having the most progressive transgender related laws in the world, which many Western countries havenot adopted. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 prohibits harassment in all forms.
However, despite these progressive laws, the community continues to face challenges. KP in particular has established Committee 6 to draft laws that could criminalise cross-dressing and body modification. This, in itself, could amount to harassment seeing that the draft blurs the line between transgender people and homosexuals and incorrectly places them in the same category.
According to Qamar Naseem, the definition of transgender person in itself has been a subject of constant debate, as cautioned by the Human Rights Watch, and International Court of Justice in their letters to the government of Pakistan during the making of the 2018 Act. Despite this contradiction, the government has been trying to facilitate transgender people to the best of their capacities. The loopholes in the laws need to be identified to ensure their protection.
The National Security Policy of Pakistan 2022 acknowledgeshuman security in Chapter VIII. It specifically talks about sender security and explicitly states: “Enable free and secure participation of women and transgender persons in all avenues of public life…. Protect citizens, especially women and transgender persons, from gender-based violence.”It is imperative now to ensure that the mindsets change along with the state policies. This could only happen if transgender people are special security to eliminate gender-based violence against them.
The writer is an anchor and correspondent at PTV World and takes a keen interest in national security, international security affairs and human rights. She can be reached via Twitter: @TayyabaNKhan