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Social Issues
Pakistani Women And Transgender Candidates Make Political History
April 19, 2013
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Next month, Pakistan will hold its first election in five years. And just by running, some candidates will be making history.

Two female candidates are contesting the election in extremely conservative areas where women have never run for office. And for the first time, transgender people are running as candidates in various parts of the country.

The two female candidates in the conservative northwest are Badam Zari and Nusrat Begum.

Zari is 53, and a housewife from Bajur in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas. She's running as an independent, and is the first tribal woman in Pakistan's history to run for office.

Badam Zari (centre) and her sister canvassing in Bajur on April 2, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Begum, 43, is running in Lower Dir, considered one of Pakistan's most sensitive areas of in terms of religious extremism.

She is the vice president of the Women's Wing of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, a political party led by Pakistani politician (and former cricket star) Imran Khan. But the seat Begum is contesting is seen as a traditional stronghold of religious party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Both women are taking a personal risk by running. The Pakistani Taliban are still a major threat to women in some areas. In March, the BBC reports, a female school teacher who fought for girls' education in Pakistan was shot and killed by the Taliban for "promoting secularism".

But Zari says she's not concerned, and is focused on working for the people in her region.

"I'm not feeling any threat as I'm on the right path, and struggle to address the basic needs of our people who are being deprived of their basic necessities, like electricity, hospitals, roads, education and even clean drinking water," she told Al Jazeera. "And so far, no one has tried to address these issues, and this has made me determined to fight for their rights."

According to Pakistani newspaper The Friday Times, Zari surprised many with her decision to run - but she's being cheered on by some, including men: "I began to cry when I heard that a woman from my area was contesting the elections. I support her," said car mechanic Khan Gul, who is from Bajur.

Elsewhere in the country, transgender candidates are running as well, something that has never happened before in Pakistan.

A 2011 ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court allowed members of the transgender community to register with identity cards that recognize them as a separate identity - neither male nor female - and allow them to vote.

That ruling inspired Bindiya Rana, a transgender woman who was already active in her community, to register as a candidate.

Bindiya Rana, right, talks to locals in Karachi, Pakistan, April 15, 2013 (Photo: AP)

According to the Associated Press, people in Rana's Karachi neighbourhood are paying more attention to her plaform than her gender identity. They want to know how she'll deal with crime and power failures in their community.

Rana's not the only transgender candidate. Almas Boby, president of the Pakistan Shemale Foundation, says she knows of at least five transgender candidates: two in Karachi (including Rana), and one each in the cities of Jehlum, Gujrat, and Sargodha in Punjab Province.

Transgender people often face harassment and abuse in Pakistan, including from their own families. Many are forced out of their homes at an early age and end up as prostitutes.

But they're also a big part of the community in Pakistan. They are called hijra (the South Asian terms for a transgender woman), and considered good luck for both newborns and newlyweds: they are often hired to perform at baby showers and weddings.

Despite their cultural prominence, hijra face discrimination in many parts of Pakistan. To read more about their role, check out this post from NPR.

By running for office, some candidates hope to draw attention to the role of transgender people in the country.

"If I win, I will also become a strong voice for transgendered people, who are often victimized and humiliated," said Lubna Lal, who is running in Jehlum.

Via Al Jazeera


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