Shakeela, a 27-year-old trans woman living in Pakistan, was reportedly kidnapped, blackmailed, tortured and had her hair forcibly shaved by a gang. Gangs have done the same thing to other trans women, sometimes even setting them on fire and killing them without ever being prosecuted for their crimes — and the local trans community is fighting back.
In a press conference this week, Pakistan’s Trans Action support group highlighted Shakeela’s story while pointing out that “64 trans people have been killed in the country’s northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2015, while more than 600 have been tortured,” according to Metro.com.
Shakeela works as a dancer and had paid the gang 40,000 rupees ($256.41) and then 50,000 rupees ($320.51) on two separate occasions. This time around, the gang demanded 1,000,000 rupees ($6,410.26), an amount she simply couldn’t pay. So the gang members beat her and shaved off her hair to disgrace her while warning to others.
Farzana Jan, the president of Trans Action, said, “There is an organized group of criminal gangs who specifically target the transgender community because they are more vulnerable. They’re involved not only in the sexual exploitation of the transgender community but they extort money from them. ‘They are seen as weak and easy targets.”
While police occasionally arrest perpetrators of these crimes, she said, there are rarely ever any convictions.
In May 2018, the Pakistani government passed a landmark transgender rights bill that gave its trans citizens more rights than even trans Americans have. At the time of its passage, Hornet reported:
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 allows trans Pakistanis to change their official government ID without requiring approval from a medical examiners’ board. It also forbids anti-trans discrimination in employment, housing, political participation and public accommodations.
In addition to this, the bill increases penalties for anyone targeting trans people for physical or sexual violence; it requires the government to establish a trans “safe house” providing medical, educational and psychological care; it states the country’s legal officers will receive trans-sensitivity training; and jails will have separate rooms for trans inmates (though it’s unclear whether this will amount to solitary confinement).
In 2017, Pakistan’s national census counted 10,418 trans people among its citizens (even though local trans people say the number is likely far higher). Nevertheless, Jan says the trans right bills has no enforcement mechanism, allowing widespread discrimination and violence against trans people to continue unchecked.