Crime & Justice

Transsexual woman joins Pakistan police to fight discrimination

By Jaime Leon

Islamabad, Jul 31 (efe-epa).- Reem Sharif, a transsexual woman in Pakistan who has suffered humiliation and discrimination throughout her life, is now fighting to help many others from her community by joining the country’s police force.

She works at a police help center aimed at supporting many others from her community so that they do not go through the same ordeal like her in Pakistan, a conservative country where transgenders live in the shadows and face much violence.

In her two-and-a-half months as an officer at the police’s first transgender center, Sharif has worked on 19 cases, including incidents in which transgender people were threatened by family members, and even faced police harassment, situations she is well aware of.

“A man or woman cannot understand the culture of the transgender community the way I do,” the 32-year old Sharif, who holds a degree in International Relations, told EFE from the Tahaffuz (“protection” in Urdu) center In the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

“When a transgender is harassed if she goes to police station she is harassed again. It happens all the time,” stressed the officer.

Murders, rapes, beatings, insults and employment discrimination are part of the lives of transsexuals in Pakistan, and they are often forced into begging, prostitution or dancing for a living.

Such discrimination has continued even though the Supreme Court in 2009 recognized the existence of the “third sex” for official documents. Moreover, two years ago the country’s parliament passed a law establishing the rights of transsexuals and prohibiting their discrimination in educational institutions and in workplaces.

“I was also discriminated,” affirmed Sharif.

Her family rejected her, especially her brother, who even tried to physically assault her.

“I am accepted as a transgender person now but after a huge fight. Even now my family is not fully comfortable with me,” she said.

The worst period of her life was when she was studying engineering at the University of Lahore, where she was subject to ridicule and insults.

“I got depressed. I was like paralyzed on bed for one year because of the stress and discrimination that I faced at the university. I was not able to even move my arms or legs,” said the officer in charge of attending to transgender victims.

However, she managed to recover and began studying International Relations at another university.

Thus, when in one of her first cases, a young transgender woman came to the center “very frightened” after her family threatened to give her electric shocks, lock her in a closet and even kill her, Sharif knew what she was going through.

“I called in her family and counseled them. They gave a written statement that we were not aware that what a transgender person is and said they will not harm her any more,” she said.

In another case, a transsexual came to the Tahaffuz center and complained that several police officers had been harassing her with continuous raids at her home at night. Sharif intervened and the problem disappeared.

She also acted as an intermediary between the police and a group of transsexuals, when the latter blocked several roads in Rawalpindi in protest against the murder of one of their members.

To offer confidence – that is the aim of the Tahaffuz center, where Sharif works with two other officers, a man and a woman.

“We realized that transgenders have many problems which hardly come to surface,” Rawalpindi Police chief Mohamed Ahsan Younas, who was the brain behind the initiative, told EFE.

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