Don't we count? Trans­gen­der Pakistanis feel side­lined by cen­sus

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL/EVENTS - By Zofeen T Ebrahim Con­se­quences

IS­LAM­ABAD, Oct 7 (Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion) - When Pak­istani cen­sus of­fi­cials came to the home of Aisha, a 27-yearold trans­gen­der woman in La­hore, she was marked down on their doc­u­ments as a man.

“I live with my par­ents and when the of­fi­cials came to my home I was not there,” she said. “My par­ents marked me as a male as they have not ac­cepted my gen­der.” Trans­gen­der peo­ple like Aisha were “dis­turbingly” un­der­counted in Pak­istan's re­cent cen­sus, cam­paign­ers say, leav­ing them on the mar­gins of mainstream so­ci­ety.

While they were counted for the first time in the cen­sus, pub­lished in Au­gust, the sur­vey iden­ti­fied only 10,418 trans­gen­der peo­ple out of a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 208 mil­lion.

This, say rights cam­paign­ers, se­ri­ously un­der­es­ti­mates the true size of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity in Pak­istan.

“In the province of Pun­jab alone, we are any­where be­tween 400,000 to 500,000,” said 24-year Mona Ali, who heads the Khawaja Sira So­ci­ety, a La­hore-based group work­ing for the rights of trans­gen­der peo­ple.

“We have been pro­vid­ing health fa­cil­i­ties to over 30,000 trans­gen­ders in La­hore city alone,” she added.

Bindya Rana, an­other com­mu­nity ac­tivist, who heads Jiya, a trans­gen­der rights group in the port city of Karachi, put the to­tal num­ber of trans­gen­der peo­ple at 300,000 across Pak­istan.

The cen­sus - the first in 19 years - iden­ti­fied trans­gen­der peo­ple ac­cord­ing to their na­tional iden­tity cards, said Ali. But many trans­gen­der peo­ple iden­tify as male or fe­male rather than third gen­der on their cards to avoid dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The un­der­count­ing of trans­gen­der peo­ple will have se­ri­ous con­se­quences, said Kami Sid, a trans­gen­der woman who works as a model and actor - but whose iden­tity card marks her as male.

Now the gov­ern­ment can claim “'you are just a hand­ful and so th­ese many re­sources are enough for you'” she said, adding: “They can wash their hands of us with­out feel­ing guilty.” The con­cept of a third gen­der dates back cen­turies in South Asia and the “khawaja siras” com­mu­nity, iden­ti­fy­ing as nei­ther male or fe­male, are ac­cepted but marginalised - with trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple of­ten forced into beg­ging and sex work.

Anis Ha­roon, mem­ber of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, said trans­gen­der peo­ple had been “dis­turbingly un­der­counted” and lit­tle would change un­til of­fi­cial records more ac­cu­rately re­flect the size of the com­mu­nity.

“If their num­bers are not fully re­flected it will af­fect poli­cies to bring them at par with other cit­i­zens. They will be de­prived of their share in ed­u­ca­tion and jobs,” Ha­roon said.

In 2010, the Supreme Court or­dered the full recog­ni­tion of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the pro­vi­sion of free med­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties, mi­cro­cre­dit schemes and job quo­tas for trans­gen­der peo­ple in ev­ery gov­ern­ment de­part­ment.

Pak­istan's first law recog­nis­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple as equal cit­i­zens with penal­ties for dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence against them is pend­ing ap­proval in par­lia­ment.

It also gives in­her­i­tance rights to trans­gen­der peo­ple - some­thing which has held them back from declar­ing their gen­der sta­tus on of­fi­cial doc­u­ments.

“If I de­clare my­self as a trans woman, I will lose my in­her­i­tance as Is­lamic law gives me no such priv­i­lege,” said Kami Sid, the trans­gen­der model.

How­ever Rana from the Jiya NGO said when cen­sus of­fi­cials came to her home she was de­ter­mined to de­clare she was trans­gen­der.

“Al­though there was no sep­a­rate col­umn on the form, they did write my gen­der as per my wishes on the form,” she said, but most trans­gen­der peo­ple, many of them with lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion, did not re­alise that this was pos­si­ble.

Farid Mid­het, a de­mog­ra­pher at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity- af­fil­i­ated health non-profit, Jh­piego, said one way of get­ting the num­bers right would be to in­clude ques­tions about trans­gen­der peo­ple in the next Pak­istan De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey, which will be­gin early next year.

The trans­gen­der com­mu­nity at Sha­keela's party in Pe­shawar. Reuters

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