As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the ongoing global health crises and the resulting economic consequences of the measures imposed to contain Covid-19 have highlighted the vast and rapidly growing inequities, threatening the livelihoods of the most vulnerable. The transgender community in Pakistan faces cultural and legal discrimination on a regular basis, but things have become even tougher for them during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the world comes together in solidarity, the transgender community in Pakistan fights Covid-19 alone. This structurally discriminated group has been rendered even more marginalized under the double jolt of the disease and social distancing.
Ghazala Shafique, a transgender activist from Karachi, supported the community in Covid-19crisis. She actively participated in vaccination campaigns not only for the transgender community but also for other marginalized communities. She offered her home as a vaccination center and shelter for transgender who lost their homes due to Covid-19 crisis. She also advocated for the vaccination in Covid-19crisis.
Speaking about the transgender community in Sindh, Pakistan, transgender activist Ghazala says, “Transgender people in Pakistan were already marginalized. Now the vaccination process is adding to their plight. Many minorities, including transgender people living in Karachi are either not ready to get vaccinated, or have been unable to do so. Some of the people in these communities don’t have the official identity documents to get themselves registered for vaccination. Many are still unconvinced of the safety and efficacy of vaccination.”
Stigma and discrimination make transgender people reluctant to disclose their health.
Among them is Sattara, a 39-year-oldtrans-woman living in Lyari, who says, “I have heard many people complaining of pain in their legs, weakness, and fever. A few have lost their eyesight” she says and adds, “The government is now pressuring people to get vaccinated but there are no special arrangements for transgender, I was nervous and conscious while standing in the women’s line and was bracing for something untoward to happen.” Her fears were proved right when her friend and she were asked to step aside and let the others waiting in line go first. Stigma and discrimination make transgender people reluctant to disclose their gender identity.
Nisha Rao Voice of Tran’s community
Owing to a lack of education and awareness, transgender communities living in underprivileged areas of Karachi like Korangi, Landhi, Baldia Town, New Karachi, Yousaf Goth and Surjani Town are vaccine-hesitant.Nisha Rao, 28, a transgender law student, tells that some trans-people,who are educated and live in more affluent areas of the city, such as Defense,Clifton, Tariq Road and Gulshan, have been vaccinated. Rao says that due to reports of harassment at various vaccination centers in Karachi recently,trans-people are avoiding those. She demands separate counters for trans-people, especially at the Karachi Expo Center.
If we stand with the men, they harass us. If we stand next to women, they feel uncomfortable.
There are 18,000 transgender people in Karachi and almost all of them have CNICs, butonly one or two per cent of them are vaccinated, according to Bindiya Rana, the head of the Gender Interactive Alliance. A large number of transgender people in Karachi are suffering from various diseases, including HIV/AIDs. “I have recently gotten vaccinated, as the cases of the Covid-19 have increased exponentially in Karachi, due to the spread of the Delta variant,” she says.
The most pertinent issue, Rana claims, is the lack of exclusive counters for transgender persons at most government inoculation centers. Unlike the mega-center at Karachi’s Expo Center, other smaller vaccination points usually require people to queue according to their gender, in order to be jabbed. “There are counters for ladies and counters for gents, but what about the transgender-people?” questions the GIA executive director. “If we stand with the men, they harass us. If we stand next to women, they feel uncomfortable and treat us with contempt. Which is why most transgender people feel intimidated by the thought of lining up at vaccination centers,” she explains.
Shahnaz, who recently got vaccinated at a government facility in Karachi’s central district said that she had to dress as a man to get her Covid-19 shot. The 34-year old, who identifies as a transgender woman and wears a full face of makeup when going out on most days,felt that revealing her identity would have made her the subject of unwarranted bullying and harassment at the vaccination center. Shahnaz, whose national identity card mentions her birth name and an X in place of gender, thought that she had no other option but to assimilate in the disguise of a man. “It felt humiliating, but I was scared of how people may react to me. So I put on agents’ Shalwar Kamiz and queued by the men’s counter for my vaccine,” she tells tormentingly.
Another dilemma that stands between Karachi’s transgender population and inoculation, is the financial impact of Covid-19 on local Khawaja Siras. Many in the community who previously made a living out of singing and dancing at weddings and other functions, were left on their beam-ends during government restrictions that headlined the last two years.
As the province cheerily moves towards resuming some form of normalcy, Khawaja Siras, who were worst affected by the financial impact of Covid-19, say that earning a living is their priority at the moment.
“Although […] everything appears to be normal now, […] people are still reluctant to invite us to their events thinking we’ll bring the virus into their house. So currently, we have no other option but make our ends meet by begging on the streets, where every minute counts,”Sitara shares, a 27-year-old transgender woman from Karachi’s Mujahid Colony.
Adding to which, Hina, another transgender woman from the same neighborhood, maintained that for her community begging on the streets too doesn’t come for free. “We rely on makeup to live our truth and cosmetic prices have been climbing every day. We can’t go out and beg if we don’t look our best. So, in these situations, we cannot afford to waste a day of earning only to be ridiculed at the vaccination center,” she remarks.