THE recently reported story of Nisha Rao, Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Like so many from the trans community, Nisha ran away from home and was forced to beg on the streets to make ends meet. For some time, she stood at traffic lights and begged in order to survive, but was determined to forge a new path for herself. As she earned enough to pay for law classes, she enrolled at school, earned a degree and licence, and this year joined the Karachi Bar Association. She now works with an NGO to fight for transgender rights, and is expanding her client base to include persons outside her community.

Nisha’s happy ending is no doubt uplifting. Yet for all her success and ambition, the early years of her independence were fraught with hardship. Social stigmas and systemic discrimination have pushed the trans community in Pakistan into begging and the sex trade for decades — options that trans people like Nisha are compelled to consider if they come out to their families and get shunned as a result. The abuse, harassment and judgement that trans people are subjected to are harrowing; not only are these people the victims of terrible violence, they are even denied space in morgues. In these circumstances, the fact that Pakistan became one of a few countries in the world to pass legislation protecting the rights of transgender people in 2018 is a ray of hope — and a testament to how hard the community has fought to be heard and recognised. In enshrining an individual’s right to determine their gender, the state made a historic decision to safeguard the rights of the community. But the road ahead is a long one. Trans people still face serious discrimination and violence, and are far from being represented in all walks of life. The government must continue to support the trans community and work on a public-awareness campaign that sensitises people about gender identity. Like Nisha, trans people should be represented across professions and given respect in keeping with their constitutional rights.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2020

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