A session recently held at the University of Karachi by the Arts and Culture Society in collaboration with UNDP and ECI endeavored to raise awareness about the plight of the transgender community in Karachi. With two panelists and activists having worked in the HIV and AIDS space, the session aimed to bust various myths associated with HIV/AIDS.
The plight of transgender people
In Pakistan, there is a closely knit transgender community of over 10,000 people (figures from the 2017 Housing and Population Census), who live, eat, and coexist together despite their religion or ethnicity. Bindiya Rana, the leading transgender activist and founder of Jiya estimates the transgender population to be around 300,000 across the country, and deems the current number to be highly misrepresentive.
Last decade was marked by significant leaps and bounds in acquiring basic rights for the transgender community in Pakistan. In 2018, the parliament passed a historic Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act guaranteeing basic rights to the oft-repudiated and stigmatized community. This includes the right to choose their own gender and prohibiting discrimination against them at all levels.
Despite this progress, the transgender community continues to be marginalized at the hands of religious bigots and the patriarchal dogmatists.
Mobility and access to public spaces
Transgender people continually face mobility issues in public. Access to public spaces has been a concern for the community, especially the fact that washrooms and toilet stations in public places are binary and even the ones who identify themselves as either a transwoman or a transman are unable to use public facilities.
“Many transgenders don’t use public transportation for the same reason,” said Zehrish Khan, a trans activist, graduate of the University of Karachi and a member of the Gender Interactive Alliance. There are no separate areas for transgender people on public buses.
Perhaps the most horrendous misconception associated with transgender people is the fact that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS are most prevalent in the community, while Pakistan had an alarming number of 160,000 reported HIV cases in 2018. This was according to a report by UNAIDS, the UN organization leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. There has been a whopping 369% increase in the AIDS related deaths from 1400 to 6400 deaths since 2010.
Speaking to the audience, Dr. Syed Ahmed Abbasi attempted to break various myths associated with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and explained the modes of transmission of the disease and the virus.
“Despite the popular belief that transgenders are carriers of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the highest rate is amongst the IV drug users,” he said. “The virus is then transmitted through any form of fluids, including semen, saliva, and blood.”
Transgender people continue to be ostracized by the masses. “Families disown transgenders as soon as they start hitting adolescence and in most cases, right after their birth,” explained Zehrish.
It is due to this that many transgenders get snubbed from the system. They end up becoming entertainers, or worse, are trafficked into sex work.
Closing the discussion, Dr. Nausheen Raza, the advisor of Arts and Culture Society and a faculty member at the university advocated for the constitutional and fundamental rights of transgender people. “We have marginalized the transgender community. Jinnah’s Pakistan was created for everyone, regardless of their caste, creed, gender, religion, or orientation,” she said.
“Acceptance needs to come from all levels,” reinforced Zehrish.