The transgender community in Pakistan faces serious and significant challenges because of the prevelant ‘transphobia’ culture. This results in possible denial of legal, political, socio-economic, and health rights of this marginalised community who struggle with recognition and acceptance in mainstream society.
UNDP Pakistan has been actively involved in lobbying and advocating the 2030 Agenda of ‘Leave No One Behind’ for the past several years. This culminated into a legislative victory for the transgenders through the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018. This Act has given much needed hope to the transgender community and an impetus for progress. In addition, UNDP Pakistan contributes towards social inclusion and human rights for transgender persons by addressing transphobic stigma and discrimination. For this purpose, we have been conducting nation-wide series of Training of Trainers (TOTs) for duty bearers, rights holders (transgender persons) and civil society. These trainings create an enabling environment for rights based approaches for the socially excluded groups.
UNDP has also supported transgender activists with voice, visibility and agency: be it Aisha Mughal, the first transgender person to work at the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR); Nayyab Ali, our expert trainer, or Alisha, our youth champion and consultant who works in the Country Office. Over the past two years, we have been slowly expanding our network of transgender partners and champions across the country through our interventions to reduce transphobic stigma and discrimination. These individuals continue to fight transphobia in their personal and professional capacities to change perceptions and attitudes.
Another prominent name of our transgender network is Reem Sharif; the first ever transgender police officer of the Rawalpindi Police force. Reem has been appointed as a ‘Victim Support Officer and Facilitator’ and is tasked with dealing with complaints from the transgender community. This initiative has been taken by the City Police Officer (CPO) Rawalpindi under a pilot project titled ‘Tahafuz’ (Safety) aimed to be replicated in other police stations of the country. Housed in an adjacent area to the women police station of Rawalpindi city, Reem’s responsibilities also include psychological counselling for the community as well as sensitization of the police force with respect to transgender rights outlined in the 2018 Act.
Reem has struggled against transphobia ever since she revealed her gender identity; to the extent that she suffered a severe spell of depression that left her bed ridden for almost a year. Reem faced excessive discrimination, bullying, and stigmatization by most of her family members and close friends, and gave up studying for her engineering degree. But she never gave up otherwise. Reem persevered. Today, she has a Masters’ degree in International Relations and has completed several advance computer courses as well.
Reem’s courage and confidence radiates in her poise and self-belief: she iterates that her faith and perseverance provided her with the positivity to get through hard times. Reflecting on those dark times, Reem reminisces that societal pressures and prejudices force open-minded people to also display such transphobic attitudes and behaviours. But Reem was not completely alone: “My mother was by my side, despite the rest of my family withdrawing their support”.
“If you have courage and faith in yourself and your dreams, doors will open for you”.
Reem appreciates the support of Nayyab Ali, prominent trans-rights activist and recent international GALA award winner who has been with UNDP Pakistan since 2019.
Transphobia is perpetuated by different sections of society ranging from political to religious, from hospitals to government offices and even hotels; transphobia is deeply embedded. But Reem strongly believes that transgender persons themselves, also have a great responsibility in reshaping behaviours and attitudes of society towards them; “We must change from the inside and challenge transphobia amongst ourselves first”.
Transphobia cannot and will not disappear overnight. However, Reem and others are the trend setters and role models who will empower others to come forward and break barriers. And we, at the UNDP Pakistan, are proud to support them.
Ayesha Babar, Communications Analyst and Head of Communications Unit, UNDP Pakistan.