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Thousands of trans people turned away from voting in Pakistan’s elections

Thousands of trans people turned away from voting in Pakistan’s elections

Two trans election observers in Pakistan, they are both wearing white headscarves

Pakistan’s 2018 national elections were supposed to be a historic day for the trans community. But they have turned into a series of ongoing disappointments.

For the first time in history, trans people were able to register to vote as the third gender of ‘X’. A change in national laws meant trans people could get ID cards and voter cards that reflect their true gender.

A number of trans people had also thrown their hat in the ring and ran for office. But many ended up withdrawing their candidacy because they could not register as gender ‘X’ on the candidates’ application form.

trans women handing out leaflets in a colourful pakistani market street
Trans women campaigning ahead of Pakistan’s national elections. | Photo: Facebook/Trans Action Pakistan

Trans people had also trained to work as electoral observers at voting booths around the country.

But election officials turned away thousands of trans people from voting booths whose ID still recorded their gender as male.

‘The national identity cards with the category of X has been issued only to 127 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,’ said Qamar Naseem, a prominent trans activist.

But police even some trans people from voting who had updated their national ID. According to media reports, police stopped about 25 trans people from voting even though they had ID that reflected their gender in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) region.

‘The sensitization among polling staff and police on transgender voters and observers is very poor and disappointing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,’ wrote advocacy group Trans Action Pakistan in a statement.

‘Most of the people in Peshawar (a city in KP) are deprived of votes. The election commission of Pakistan is not able to understand the problems of Khawaja sara (trans women in Pakistan).’

Voting observers

Naseem heads local trans organization, Blue Veins. It trained 25 Khawaja saras to volunteer as election observers in the elections.

A group of women in traditional pakistan costume sit in a group they all have matching green lanyards on
The 25 election observers in Pakistan. | Photo: Facebook/Blue Veins

But the discrimination they faced on election day took away from the joy the community felt at its recent victories.

According to Blue Veins and Trans Action Pakistan, police stopped a number of the Khawaja saras from fulliling their observer duties.

The remainder that did observe the voting managed to do so despite a bomb detonating nearby and very hot weather.

Controversy has surrounded the Pakistani elections, with some complaining of alleged vote rigging. But the elections results at the time of writing, show former cricket star turned politician, Imran Khan’s PTI party surging ahead winning 113 seats so far.

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