PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan has issued its first third-gender passport to a transgender activist, who hailed the move as a step forward for the marginalised community in the deeply conservative South Asian country.
Farzana Riaz, a transgender in northwestern Peshawar city, said the new passport would help her campaign globally on behalf of her community, who are also known as khawajasiras – an umbrella term in Pakistan denoting a third sex that includes transsexuals, transvestites and eunuchs.
“I have received my passport which mentions my gender as X and not as a male or female,” Farzana told AFP on Saturday.
“Earlier, I had a passport which had described my gender as a male. But this time I told the authorities that I won’t accept my passport if it doesn’t identify me as a transgender,” the 30-year-old co-founder and president of rights organisation TransAction said.
“Now, it will be more convenient for me to travel abroad because earlier I faced problems at international airports because of a contradiction in my appearance and sex mention on my passport,” she added.
Modern-day Pakistani transgender people claim to be cultural heirs of the eunuchs who thrived at the courts of the Mughal emperors that ruled the Indian subcontinent for two centuries until the British arrived in the 19th century and banned them.
In 2009, Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex, allowing transgenders to obtain identity cards, while several have also run in elections.
They number at least half a million people in the country, according to several studies.
Like Farzana, many earn their living by being called upon for rituals such as blessing newborns or to bring life to weddings and parties as dancers – and, sometimes, in more clandestine ways.
But despite these signs of integration they live daily as pariahs, often reduced to begging and prostitution, subjected to extortion and discrimination.
Meanwhile, homosexuality, prohibited by Islam, is punishable by 10 years imprisonment or even 100 lashes in Pakistan.