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Pakistan’s 'Third Gender' Demand Rights Protection

Farzana, the newly elected chairperson of the Shemale Rights Foundation of Pakhtunkhwa (photo by Mujeeb Sial)
The head of a new group representing Pakistani transvestites, transsexuals, and eunuchs is demanding greater rights protection for the community, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Farzana, known by one name, is the newly elected chairperson of the Shemale Rights Foundation of Pakhtunkhwa, the first formal organization of its kind in the area formerly known as North West Frontier Province.

Farzana said people view members of her community -- known in Pakistan by the catch-all term "hijra" -- with disgust and don’t consider them normal human beings.

"There is a long history of discrimination against us. We are a laughing-stock for people and they make fun of us. Police officials most often forcefully arrest our community members and take them to the police station," Farzana told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. "They arrest us for nothing and there is no one to speak for us. Now we ourselves will fight for our rights."

"Our families have deserted us, because in their view we give our relatives a bad name. Is it our fault if nature has created us in this form?" Farzana added.

Farzana's group announced its formation in the provincial capital Peshawar on June 7. It has the aim of demanding greater rights protection and putting an end to the discrimination they confront in the conservative region.

No reliable data exist, but Farzana said an estimated 10,000 hijras live in the region.

Last week, hijras protested in Peshawar about what they called the heavy-handedness of police.

In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the government to allow hijras to identify themselves as a distinct gender on their national identity cards.