PESHAWAR/ LAHORE/ KARACHI:
For a political landscape where elected leaders unabashedly belittle the opposition by taking a pejorative dig at their effete demeanour, gender has emerged as a highly binarised category, with a strict set of attributes and behaviours defining both masculinity and femininity, leaving no room for candidates belonging to the third gender, who in their inability to fit the dual gender identities are strategically excluded by cisnormative parties from participating in the democratic process.
Despite several central leftist political parties upholding the banner of inclusivity in their elaborate manifestos and glib addresses, no party including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been successful in issuing a single ticket among thousands of vacancies for the National and Provincial Assemblies, to a candidate from the marginalised transgender community, which has been consistently denied a chance at representing its grievances at the state level.
“No party has given an election ticket to a transgender candidate from any constituency. I was expecting at least the PPP to consider including our community in its party but they too have turned a blind eye,” confirmed Shahzadi Rai, a transgender councillor based in Karachi.
The situation was quite similar in Lahore, where Jannat Ali, a transgender activist, challenged the unfair denial of electoral representation by mainstream parties to the transgender community, which was in dire need of delegation.
“Only a transgender elective can truly understand the plight of other transgender people in the country. Just the way women, religious minorities and differently-abled individuals are assigned a special quota of seats to ensure their representation, the transgender community too must be accommodated in the electoral process,” urged Jannat, who was quick to despondently add that the current electoral system had no room for members of the third gender.
Qamar Naseem, a trans rights activist from Peshawar believed that the denial of electoral representation to the transgender community by political parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa reflected a broader socio-political prejudice in society, where despite legal recognition and increasing awareness on the rights of the transgender community, inclusion was still a major challenge.
“Our political landscape must actively incorporate the diverse voices of all communities, including the transgender population, in order to ensure equitable representation and policy-making,” asserted Naseem.
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The reality of the political landscape however, is far removed from Naseem’s utopian suggestion, as sources from the Express Tribune and data from the Population and Housing Census of 2017 reveal that for the upcoming General Elections 2024, only five independent candidates from across Pakistan will be representing the country’s transgender community, which comprises a sizeable population of 21,774 people.
“Parties assign tickets to candidates on the basis of their social standing and influence. Most parties fear that if they issue a ticket to a transgender candidate, either the public will ridicule them or the opposition will mock them. Since our society in general is utterly dismissive of persons with an unconventional gender identity and demeanor, how can we expect political parties and politicians to nurture a different mindset?,” questioned Nayab Ali, one of the few independent candidates contesting for the elections from NA-46 and NA-47 in Lahore.
Nayab’s assessment of the cisnormative political culture is evident in documented instances of mockery by politicians, who have used transphobic slur to target the opposition leaders. For instance, former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, have openly taunted PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by referring to him as “sahiba” and “billo rani” during their speeches.
According to Dr Asma Seemi Malik, Head of the Department of Sociology at the Lahore College for Women University, the exhibition of such attitudes towards the transgender community is regrettable to say the least.
“The socio-political arena must show sensitivity towards the transgender population. Until or unless they gain acceptance in our society, they would not be able to enter politics and work for the betterment of their community,” opined Dr Malik.
Furthermore, what has left most transgender politicians in a quandary is the sheer irreverence with which even the seemingly inclusive parties have disregarded transgender representation.
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“No party is willing to represent more than one million transgender persons in K-P,” lamented Sobia Khan, a trans rights activist from K-P.
The lack of attention given to the safety and wellbeing of transgender persons in K-P is evident in the high rate of crime against the community. As per a report by the Trans Alliance Action, more than 100 transgender persons have been killed across K-P during the past three years but the accused were not convicted due to the weak, discriminatory judicial system.
“PTI is the only party which has devised a plan for uplifting the status of the transgender community in K-P,” claimed Naseem.
However, Farzana Jan, President of the Transgender Community K-P, was quick to dismiss Naseem’s assertion when she confirmed that although the previous PTI government had passed a bill for the rights of the transgender community, it could not be implemented.
“Political parties like the PTI, PPP and ANP talk about transgender rights in their manifestos but no action is taken to improve their status or offer them membership,” discerned Farzana.
An attempt was made to contact the ANP spokesperson to take their stance on the issue but they were preoccupied with the election campaign and thus could not respond.
Speaking to the Express Tribune on the matter, Taj Haider, in-charge of the PPP’s election cell said,” We will take the necessary steps to ensure representation to the transgender community in the National and Provincial assemblies.”