Pakistan transgenders struggle as COVID-19 paralyses life

Lahore: As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across Pakistan, it has left the transgender community in Punjab province at heightened risk of poverty and ill health because they exist on the fringes of society, a media report said on Tuesday.

Eking out a living through begging on the streets, the transgender community’s options are limited — they can either stay at home or continue to beg to make ends meet, said The Express Tribune report.

“Everyone is vulnerable but our options are limited,” said Neeli Rana, a transwoman and community leader in Lahore.

Operating under already limited social privileges, the community fears for its survival during the lockdown period.

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While urging citizens to participate in social distancing to flatten the COVID-19 curve appears to be the only strategy that is effective in preventing the respiratory virus from spreading, the transgender community has no alternative source of income other than performing for people or begging, the report said.

“Our livelihood depends on begging and performing for people,” said Rana.

While laws, now provide some form of equality to the transgender community, they are constantly judged based on the pre-existing template of social norms and cultural expectations in the country.

In 2017, the government, in the first of firsts, counted transgender people in its national census.

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In June that year, first passports were issued with a transgender category — a milestone in the community’s long struggle against discrimination.

“We are staying at home but without any financial support from the authorities,” Rana said.

Zanaya Chaudhry, who is part of a Lahore-based NGO, said the transgender community requires financial help.

“We are trying to do as much as we can. We have provided them with protective masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves,” The Express Tribune quoted Chaudhry as saying.

“So far, we have not recorded any case of coronavirus in the community.”

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