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Pakistan assembly just got its first lesson on pronouns

Trans woman Bubbli Malik requested the Speaker to address by saying the words ‘Hazreen-e-Mehfil’, meaning ‘people present at the gathering’, rather than ‘Ladies & Gentlemen’.

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For the first time in Pakistan’s history, a member of the transgender community addressed the Pakistan National Assembly on Friday. And transwoman Bubbli Malik did not mince her words, calling out political leaders on the lack of gender inclusivity in the country. She captured the Pakistani public’s attention when she nudged Speaker Pervez Ashraf to address the House by saying “Hazreen-e-Mehfil”, meaning ‘people present at the gathering’, rather than “Khawateen-o-Hazrat,” which stands for Ladies and Gentlemen.

She proposed using pronouns inclusive of all genders. At her suggestion, Raja Pervez Ashraf used gender-neutral terms to address fellow parliamentarians, reported Naya Daur Pakistan.

 

Bringing winds of change 

Bubbli Malik is a renowned trans rights activist and has become a torchbearer for trans rights in a country that is known for being hostile toward trans communities. But Malik is crafting history. “I stand here talking about my rights. Pakistan can be mine too. There should be a seat here that is reserved for a transgender cabinet. This is my appeal to you,” said Malik in her address to Parliament.

Malik is the executive director of Wajood, a community-based organisation that exists solely for Pakistan’s trans community and works for transgender awareness.

Malik’s message can also be read on a Rawalpindi wall that has her graffiti. It shows her riding a motorcycle, with flowers painted around her image. “Hum Hain Takhleeq-e-Khuda, “I am a creation of Allah, reads the mural.

In collaboration with artist Silo Shiv Suleman’s the Fearless collective, a South Asian public art project seeking to depict women through murals, Wajood members in 2015 had shared a part of their lives with the group. The mural was painted in collaboration with students of the National College of Arts. Wajood’s trans members talked to the Fearless Collective  about their struggle to normalise employment opportunities for Pakistan’s trans youth. Wajood is on a journey to change public perception of Khwajasiras and help them achieve the livelihood they deserve.

Pakistani social media is flooded with reactions congratulating Malik on her historical feat. People are hoping that this monumental feat paves the way for more representation and possibly a trans people’s cabinet in the National Assembly.

 

 

Mainstream Pakistani media not giving this news a bigger coverage has disappointed some Pakistanis.

In recent years, attacks on trans people in Pakistan have scaled new heights. In November of 2020, prominent trans rights activist, Nayyab Ali, was attacked in her Islamabad home by two men armed with knives. She was beaten, robbed, and held hostage for three hours. Pakistan’s trans community is still living with colonial-era prejudices and facing periodical violence. But recent years have seen Pakistani trans activists commit to changing societal biases against their identity.

The National Assembly of Pakistan enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018, on 8 May 2018. The Act provides legal protection to trans people and prohibits discrimination against them in the education, healthcare, and employment sectors. It was a monumental act passed by the assembly, however, the struggle for its enforcement continues.

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