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Pakistan’s First Transgender Anchorwoman

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Punjab University’s journalism program graduate Marvia Malik set tongues wagging across Pakistan, after making her first on-air news anchor appearance for Kohinoor News.

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Malik is Pakistan’s first transgender anchorwoman, making her debut on March 23. She told CNN that she applied for the position to prove that transgender people “are capable of any job, and can do anything they want.”

Marvia Malik said on Kohinoor News:

“I want the next generation of young transgender kids to look up to me as an inspiration that they can be accepted and that there can be opportunities for them.”

The brave twenty-one-year-old woman has been living shunned from her own family and supporting herself since she was fifteen.

A recent bill passed in Pakistan to protect the rights of transgender persons is a landmark. It enables trans people the right to state their true gender on identification cards, to inherit property, and to not be discriminated against in public office.

Transgender rights are a complicated issue in Pakistan. The nation’s sharia laws and hudood ordinances, or religious laws, make LGBTQ rights taboo. It is illegal to be gay. Pakistan does not call for the death penalty for gay unions, though throughout sharia-ruled nations, this is common.

In some eastern cultures, transgender people are not “LGBT” people. They are considered hijras, a South Asian concept of “third gender” and considered neither man nor woman. They may be subject to violence and discrimination, but they are also viewed as special or magical, and have their own society within the larger society.

It’s heartening to see progressive change in a deeply tribal society. Malik’s boss, director of the news channel, told CNN that he didn’t know Malik was transgender when he interviewed her. Having found out, he simply confirmed that Kohinoor News aims to be an open company that provides opportunities for people “from all sorts of background.” He said, “We will not discriminate, everyone has dreams, everyone has goals, and so much of that talent gets thrown into the dustbin, undiscovered, simply because of the biases in society.” Bravo to Bilal Ashraf for his courageous stance.

An inspiring moment for transgender rights in Pakistan, to be sure, but another moment in the same week reminds us of the threats trans women face as they struggle for acceptance. A transgender woman and her friend were murdered in Peshawar, while travelling in a rickshaw. The local rights group Trans Action Alliance says more than fifty trans women have been murdered there in recent years. Many have been killed for “honor” or by vigilantes purging society of anti-Islamic influences.

Malik has her work cut out for her, but thankfully she has her boss and the new senate bill on her side.

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