Fleeing Gender: Reasons for Displacement in Pakistan’s Transgender Community

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This chapter is particularly relevant for humanitarian practitioners working in the refugee and displacement space, and the role state institutions such as the police play in perpetuating internal discrimination and displacement of trans people.

This book chapter presents the findings from an ethnographic case study of khwaja siras in Pakistan. The study involved open-ended interviews with five khwaja siras who had sought legal or financial assistance following a violation of human rights. The research asks two questions: (1) What forms of persecution in Pakistan influence the displacement of transgender people and (2) how does domestic law impact their ability to gain protection either at home or abroad?

The chapter begins by describing the social and historical context of khwaja siras in Pakistan. It then summarises the cumulative discrimination they face due to transphobia, sexism and classism. The author states that there is no agreed upon definition of khwaja sira and warns against trying to fit them into a Western category. For the purposes of the study, however, the following definition is given, “in the broadest sense, khwaja siras are those designated male at birth but who self-identify and outwardly express as female in gender”.

To answer the first research question five categories of discrimination are analysed: (1) family, (2) housing, (3) employment, (4) education and (5) healthcare. Each category is first explained and then discussed using the evidence gained from the interviews with khwaja siras. The interviewees all reported that the persecution they faced due to their khwaja sira identity made them want to flee from Pakistan.

The chapter then address the second research question and looks at the role of police in the discrimination of khwaja siras. The study reveals that police in Pakistan contribute to all of the above five areas of discrimination either by failing to investigate or through directly abusing khwaja siras. The chapter then considers the improvements in legal protections of khwaja siras at a local and national level and proposes three reasons as to why the legal advancements have not translated into improved lived experiences for khwaja siras.

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“Sexual orientation-based persecution has been recognized as a compelling reason for flight, and grounds for receiving refugee status, since at least 1990. Unfortunately, most examinations of forced migration have focused largely on the circumstances of sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations), and grouped gender expression minorities (transgender and intersex people) in with the LGB communities or failed to account for their unique experiences altogether.”

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This book chapter presents the findings from an ethnographic case study of khwaja siras in Pakistan. The study involved open-ended interviews with five khwaja siras who had sought legal or financial assistance following a violation of human rights. The research asks two questions: (1) What forms of persecution in Pakistan influence the displacement of transgender people and (2) how does domestic law impact their ability to gain protection either at home or abroad?

The chapter begins by describing the social and historical context of khwaja siras in Pakistan. It then summarises the cumulative discrimination they face due to transphobia, sexism and classism. The author states that there is no agreed upon definition of khwaja sira and warns against trying to fit them into a Western category. For the purposes of the study, however, the following definition is given, “in the broadest sense, khwaja siras are those designated male at birth but who self-identify and outwardly express as female in gender”.

To answer the first research question five categories of discrimination are analysed: (1) family, (2) housing, (3) employment, (4) education and (5) healthcare. Each category is first explained and then discussed using the evidence gained from the interviews with khwaja siras. The interviewees all reported that the persecution they faced due to their khwaja sira identity made them want to flee from Pakistan.

The chapter then address the second research question and looks at the role of police in the discrimination of khwaja siras. The study reveals that police in Pakistan contribute to all of the above five areas of discrimination either by failing to investigate or through directly abusing khwaja siras. The chapter then considers the improvements in legal protections of khwaja siras at a local and national level and proposes three reasons as to why the legal advancements have not translated into improved lived experiences for khwaja siras.