At an open market in the district of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, Miss Bindiya Rana, 35, starts another day at work selling clothes. Living in one of the poorer parts of the city, like many others here she faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. Yet, of strong build with dyed hair and wearing heavy make-up, she and others like her face a bigger challenge than most.

Part of the transgender or hijra community, social stigma and discrimination make them outcasts in Pakistan’s highly conservative society. While there are no official precise figures on the number of transgender or third-gender people living in the country, estimates range from 80,000 to 350,000-500,000, with perhaps 60-70,000 in Karachi alone.

From a lower middle-class family, Rana first became aware of her identity as a child. In public she dressed like a boy, but alone in her room she would wear girl’s clothes, lipstick and practise dancing. After running away from home for two months, her parents gradually came to accept her identity. Most are not so lucky. Shunned by their families, many have no option but to join close-knit hijra communities led by older gurus who take on the role of ersatz guardians, offering them protection.

With few completing formal education, employment opportunities are limited. Many have to endure ridicule by dancing openly in the streets or at weddings to scrape by a living, or resort simply to begging. Others are involved in sex work with little education about safe sex and the dangers of HIV.

Vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse, they also have to bear the humiliating attitude of police officers, doctors at hospitals, and public officials, complains Rana. Reports of beatings and other forms of violence directed against them are commonplace.

Read more at Inter Press Service

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