Pakistan: First trans woman in general election says the community is ‘more than dancers and beggars’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

For the first time a trans woman is running for Pakistan’s general election in May, campaigning on an equality platform that she hopes will improve opportunities for maginalised groups.

Sanam Fakir, 32, is a trans woman from Sukkur, and says she wants to campaign for equality for members of the hijra community.

In Pakistan the word “hijra”, often translated as “eunuch”, is used to refer to intersex people and people whose gender identity may be ambiguous. The term has no direct equivalent in the English language or in Western culture.

Hijras tend to live on the fringes of society and have few employment options besides begging, sex work, or providing entertainment at ceremonies for weddings and births.

“It is not our destiny to merely dance for others and hold begging bowls. We have a life to live,” Ms Fakir told AFP.

There are an estimated 500,000 hijra in Pakistan. The election in May will be the first time they are able to vote and run for office with their gender identity officially recognised, following a 2011 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that Pakistanis who do not consider themselves to be either male or female should be allowed to choose an alternative sex when they apply for their national identity cards.

Ms Fakir will be running as an Independent candidate in Sukkur, the politics of which are normally dominated by the Pakistan People’s Party. The local hijra community is small, and her chances of getting a seat in the provincial assembly are slim.

“I know it is very difficult to defeat them, but everyone should contribute for the betterment of society,” she said.

Ms Fakir set up a computer centre for hijras in 2012 as part of what she called her “mission” to educate members of the community and allow them to break out of the roles that are currently expected of them.

“We are getting educated now. People used to make fun of us, but now they have started to respect us,” she said.