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Pakistan’s Federal Government Hires First Trans Person, Says Harassment Will Not Be Tolerated

In a historic first for Pakistan, the federal government hired a trans woman, referred to in local news reports by the mononym Nomi. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in Islamabad announced Nomi’s hiring as a cook in a letter on September 26.

In an interview with The Express Tribune, Nomi said that she’s excited and shocked about the position.

“It is still unbelievable I got a respectable government job on merit and now I will be able to earn money with full respect and dignity,” she told the outlet.

Her love of cooking and experimenting with food drew her to the position. “Since my childhood, I used to see how my mother was cooking and from her, I have learnt to cook all dishes,” Nomi said.

“My appointment is an answer to those people, especially my neighbors and relatives, who believe that a person like me can only earn through illegal means,” she said.

“My parents have passed away…I was living with my brothers and sisters, but the attitude of my neighbors and relatives forced me to shift from there. Now, whenever I have to meet my family, I go in late hours so that no one can see me and return before dawn,” Nomi explained.

Though she might still be concerned with others’ transphobia toward her, Nomi has the support of her new workplace. A director at BISP, Naveed Akbar, told The Express Tribune, “It’s a proud moment for us that Nomi has joined our team.”

Akbar said that BISP was looking to work more with the trans community and also provide grants to trans people in need.

BISP said that anyone harassing Nomi would be fired, according to the outlet.

Trans people in Pakistan still face significant discrimination, with many living in communities together because of transphobic sentiments held by many Pakistanis. Finding employment also poses an issue, and many trans people in the country live in poverty. There have also been a number of killings, including that of a 23-year-old activist, Alesha, who died in a hospital in 2016 after being shot six times.

There have been some victories that provide protection for trans people as well as increased visibility for the community.

In March, Marvia Malik became the first trans woman to be a TV news anchor, appearing on private broadcaster Kohenoor. And in last July’s elections, several trans candidates ran for office.

The legal progress includes a landmark bill that came into force in May that provides fundamental rights to trans people in Pakistan. The law helps set up dedicated safe spaces for trans people to receive an education and medical care. These spaces must legally be clear of harassment. The law allows trans-identifying people to change legal documents to reflect their gender identity as well. Even those who ran for office did so because the bill allowed trans people to finally do so.

“A transgender person shall have a right to be recognized as per his or her self-perceived gender identity, as such, in accordance with the provisions of this Act,” the bill, named The Transgender Persons Protection Act, states. It criminalizes various forms of discrimination against trans people.

The legislation includes an admission from the government that the trans population remains vulnerable in Pakistan. It states: “Transgender people constitute one of the most marginalized communities in the country and they face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, lack of medical facilities and so on.”

Many activists are now focusing their energies on implementation of the law.

“You have to look at Pakistan as a country. Even though there are rules, even basic rules in Pakistan are not implemented correctly because of corruption,” Munir Saadat, a Pakistani-Danish activist, said on NPR.

The law and the visibility are still worth celebrating, though.

“Pakistan is now the first country in Asia and one of the very few in the world that recognizes the self-perceived gender identity of transgender people. They can now obtain official documents that reflect their gender identity,” said Omar Waraich, then Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, adding that the law’s passage was “a rare moment in which the constantly battling political forces found the will to address human rights in Pakistan.”

Now, the employment of Nomi represents one more step toward equality in Pakistan.

“I hope now people will feel proud of me,” she said.

Image via Twitter


Alex Cooper