In a move aimed at ending discrimination in access to care for transgender people, Pakistan has extended the country’s free healthcare scheme to cover the care of the trans community.
We spoke to Pakistan-based blogger, writer, columnist and student, Sarmad Iqbal, about this latest step by the Pakistani Government to combat the social exclusion of trans people.
He explained: “Things are definitely improving for the trans folk of Pakistan. We have seen positive change starting with the Pakistani Parliament’s passing of the Transgender Person’s (Protection of Rights) Act in 2018. This was aimed at guaranteeing basic rights for transgender citizens, outlawing discrimination by both employers and private business owners.
The move paved the way for a greater increase in acceptance for trans folk within Pakistan’s deeply conservative and patriarchal society [NB: homosexuality is still a crime in Pakistan]. But despite this historic move by the Government, there is a lot more that needs to be done when it comes to trans rights.
Vulnerable trans people are often the victims of violence and torture, frequently at the hands of more powerful individuals who are indifferent to the suffering they are inflicting.
As a blogger, columnist and writer, with bylines and published work in some of my country’s top newspapers – from The Nation to Pakistan Today – I have used my writing as a tool to advocate for the rights of trans folk.
I believe it is essential to shine a spotlight on those who are already empowered and doing their bit as positive change makers within a society which is always reluctant to accept any sort of change. We have to create a different narrative, to show people that they are not alone, that things can improve. This encourages more people to see that they too deserve better and that they can join the campaign for positive change.”
One excellent example of this is the recent appointment of the first ever trans woman to a government delegation. Aisha Mughal, works with the Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan and was one of the country’s delegates at CEDAW, the UN convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. This move towards bringing the transgender community of Pakistan into the mainstream, was praised by Mughal for being “an example for the entire world.”
Iqbal continued: “Prime Minister, Imran Kahn, has also openly expressed how his Government is committed to protecting the transgender population of Pakistan. An unprecedented move in Pakistan’s history, and an incredibly powerful affirmation for the community. You see, with the Sate’s acceptance, comes a broader acknowledgement to the masses, to accept transgender individuals as their fellow citizens.”
This message that trans people have equal human rights, is further reinforced through the extension of the healthcare scheme, which was designed to improve access and provide free medical treatment to underprivileged sectors of Pakistani society. All trans people in Pakistan will now be eligible for free medical treatment, to include transition-related care.
Iqbal concluded: “These are certainly interesting times and while there is still much work to be done, it is incredibly positive to see such bold steps being taken towards inclusivity and acceptance.”
In addition to writing for Buzzfeed USA, Sarmad Iqbal has bylines in several renowned Pakistani and International newspapers and media outlets including The Nation, Pakistan Today, and International Policy Digest among many others. He tweets @sarmadiqbal7 and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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