I’m an educated trans woman in Pakistan who struggles to find work — here’s my story

I am Rifee Khan, a trans woman and advocate for transgender rights in Sindh. I have come a long way since the day I ran away from my home.

People advise me to gain a skill and start working instead of dancing or begging; little do they know that I have a double master’s degree.

I belong to a well-educated family from Larkana, but that didn’t stop my parents and siblings from rejecting me on the account of my gender. Fortunately, soon enough, my family realised that I was a part of them and they could not just do away with me.

I had run off to a guru who lived in my neighbourhood. The guru talked to my father and explained to him that the more I was suppressed, the more I was going to rebel.

My parents understood and became more accepting of me; they told me that I can be whoever I want to be, and that I should invest in my education so that I could go on to help the transgender community.

It was not easy going to school. I was treated harshly; I had to dress like a boy and was not allowed to sit with girls. Teachers used to ask me to sing and dance to entertain the class, as if that is what a transgender person was supposed to do.

But the most important thing was that I had the support of my parents, which allowed me to go on and do my master’s in political science and economics from Shah Abdul Latif University in Khairpur.

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However, the irony is that the desire to live as I wanted has become the biggest hurdle in my life. I thought that getting an education would solve all my issues.

My sisters are professors and my brothers run their own businesses and have government jobs. I am more than 40 years old, have a university education, but I am still struggling to make ends meet. It hurts.

When I moved to Karachi to look for a career, I had high expectations. Everyone wants to move to Karachi and live the city life. I did too. I quickly found out that my hopes were misplaced. Not being able to find a job, I had to resort to dancing and begging.

During this time, I was lucky enough to have found a guru and a transgender community in Karachi. My guru thought that looking for a job was useless – and he had a point – but my friends knew that being an educated person, I should have been doing a lot better. My friends didn’t want me to end up like them.

With guidance, I landed a job as a tax recovery officer. Later, in 2014, I was shifted to run the Karachi Trans Community Centre, which was initiated by the Sindh government under the leadership of the Social Welfare Minister, Rubina Qaimkhani.

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Everyone was excited that I was working for the government, but the reality is that very soon I was back on the streets begging. I was promised a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 at the centre, but even that derisory sum stopped coming after a while.

I have not been paid a single dime since the past year. I tried to keep the centre alive and buzzing, but we simply weren’t given the funds to do any activity. I no longer go to the centre.

My parents tried their best to educate me, but I am not even able to send them money. I feel ashamed. The government has failed me and my community.

The Supreme Court gave us a 2% quota for government jobs in Karachi, but not even two transgenders have government seats to date. Jobs are advertised for men and women, but there is no mention of transgenders.

Many of us aren’t even registered citizens. Getting identity cards made is a big challenge. Most of us are reluctant to go to NADRA offices because of the obscene abuse we are subjected to by NADRA officials.

I help as much as I can. I go with people of my community to NADRA in order to assist them in the process. I worked with the government to get a separate window made at NADRA for transgenders. Thankfully, some NADRA offices now have separate windows for transgenders.

People think that transgenders are nothing more than sex workers; little do they know that if we did sex work, our lives would actually be a lot better than what it is now.


As narrated to Annam Lodhi, who put it together in the form of a blog.


Are you a member of the transgender community or an activist? Tell us your story at blog@dawn.com

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