More than three years after the Islamic Republic of Pakistan enacted a historic law guaranteeing transgender citizens fundamental rights and protecting them from discrimination and harassment, American taxpayers will fund a program to “promote broader social inclusion of transgender people” in the south Asian nation. The goal is to help Pakistan’s transgender community develop vocational skills and knowledge to improve economic opportunities by, among other things, teaching them how to establish and manage small-scale businesses. Uncle Sam is also throwing in “seed funding” of up to $600 to help transgender Pakistanis set up a business after their skills training.
The project is called Socioeconomic Inclusion of Transgender Community and the U.S. Mission to Pakistan, which functions under the State Department, will dole out $150,000 to kick start it. The two-year program will build vocational skills in transgender Pakistanis through American examples of mentoring, training, and social integration, according to the government’s grant announcement. The project will target Pakistani transgender people between the ages of 18 and 40, with a focus on those with low incomes and content will be delivered in both Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and English. Grant recipients will work with civil society organizations (CSOs) to identify and recruit a small cohort of transgender people, with an aim of at least 100 “direct beneficiaries,” the government document states.
Under the plan Pakistani transgender candidates will connect with “American experts” to, not only develop vocational skills, but also learn best practices to promote broader social inclusion. Grant recipients will create an inclusive and safe space for transgender people, develop a comprehensive roadmap to promote transgender rights in Pakistan and devise a communication strategy, that includes social media campaigns, to promote acceptance of the transgender community in the country. Groups receiving the government grants will also reach out to Pakistan’s social welfare department, ministry of human rights and transgender and human rights advocates to create awareness of issues faced by the transgender community. The goal is to promote the “economic mobility and social inclusion of transgender people,” according to the U.S. announcement.
“Although Pakistan is one of only 12 countries in the world that recognizes transgender identity on national ID cards, transgender people continue to suffer from deeply embedded transphobic attitudes,” the Biden administration writes in its grant posting. “They bear the socioeconomic consequences of discrimination, including high rates of poverty, unemployment, lack of education and healthcare, and homelessness.” The document mentions Pakistan’s landmark transgender rights legislation, passed in mid-2018, but claims its protective measures have not been put into place. “Socially, transgender individuals continue to be treated as second class citizens, having no right to privacy, personal dignity, or safety,” the U.S. writes. “Promoting acceptance and decreasing gender-based prejudice is necessary to improve the lives of transgender individuals in Pakistani society.” The document continues to say that acquiring skills and knowledge to pursue “economic mobility” can help transgender persons succeed and improve opportunities to integrate in communities, thus promoting social inclusion. “Learning best practices that promote social inclusion will in turn reinforce that success by creating more welcoming environments in which to start, run, or work in a business,” the U.S. grant announcement asserts.
Back in May 2018, Pakistan’s parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act guaranteeing rights for transgender citizens and prohibiting discrimination by employers, schools, businesses, and medical facilities. The measure allows citizens to pick their gender and forces government to recognize it on official documents, including driver’s licenses, passports, national identification cards and education certificates. Gender identity is defined in the law as “a person’s innermost and individual sense of self as male, female, or a blend of both, or neither; that can correspond or not to the sex assigned at birth.” One mainstream media outlet celebrated Pakistan for “extending the full protection of rights to trans people as equal citizens.”