NPR

Pakistan's Transgender Women, Long Marginalized, Mobilize For Rights

Activists have won victories like the right to inherit property and inclusion in the census. Parliament is considering a rights bill sponsored by an unlikely ally, an ultra-conservative Islamic party.
"In 70 years, Pakistan has bought transgenders to a position where they have no rights and no respect," says Ashi. "We are trying to regain our status in society." Source: Diaa Hadid

In a Muslim shrine in Lahore's ancient quarter, men and women pray around the tomb of a local saint. They hurl garlands and flower petals toward the tomb, each from their own, gender-segregated side: men from the left, women from the right.

On each side, transgender women lead the believers in song.

Among the men, they sing flamenco-style laments. A teenage trans woman leads the women. They struggle to keep up with her urgent chants in praise of the Prophet Muhammad's family.

Across Pakistan, transgender women are a fixture in these Sufi shrines, which tend to be more tolerant than other religious sites. Inside these holy sites, they are revered as belonging to a sacred third gender — a legacy of ancient South Asian traditions that have embraced gender fluidity.

That reverence has all but disappeared outside the shrines.

For more than a century, transgender women were pushed to the margins. South Asia's British colonial rulers outlawed their communities. In Pakistan (as in India), discrimination has continued, and transgender women frequently resort to begging and sex work to support themselves. They are often targeted for violence.

"In 70 years, Pakistan has

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR5 min readPolitics
Misery Grows At Syrian Camp Holding ISIS Family Members
In recent visits to the camp, NPR was told of babies dying of malnutrition, and found women collapsed by roadsides. "There's a lack of supplies and the numbers of patients are huge," a doctor says.
NPR4 min read
'All In The Family' And 'The Jeffersons' Revival Delivers Nostalgia — For What?
ABC's two-hour live special re-created classic episodes of celebrated sitcoms with famous actors — and original creator Norman Lear. TV critic Eric Deggans found it both triumphant and bittersweet.
NPR2 min read
American Man Achieves Dream By Reaching Mount Everest Summit, Then Dies
Donald Lynn Cash of Utah achieved his goal of climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. A traffic jam on Mount Everest may have impeded efforts to carry him down the mountain before he died.