Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday launched a health scheme for the transgender community in the Muslim-majority country.
The Sehat Insaf Card, which falls under the government’s Sehat Sahulat Program, is a scheme designed to improve healthcare access and provide free medical treatment to underprivileged sectors of Pakistani society.
“Today, the cards we have given out is the first acknowledgement and a great step towards the transgender community, which had been long ignored,” Khan said at the launch, according to local media reports.
“Unfortunately, with a heavy heart I have to say that people don’t have empathy for our transgender community who live such a hard life,” he said.
Khan said his government was resolute in protecting the transgender population of Pakistan, while also working to change attitudes of the general public towards the community.
According to the health scheme’s website, over 6 million families are enrolled in the programme.
Over the past decade, Pakistani legislators have passed several laws protecting the rights of the transgender community in the country.
In 2009, transgender Pakistanis were granted special status by the Supreme Court, with rights equal to other citizens of the country.
In 2018, Pakistan’s parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which allows citizens to choose their gender and have it recognised on official documents such as passports, national ID cards and driver’s licenses.
Nevertheless, enforcement of the laws is slow, with the community continuing to face persecution and living largely on the margins of Pakistani society.
Many live in secluded communities, often having no choice but to beg on the streets or sing and dance at private parties to earn a living. Some also turn to prostitution to make ends meet.
In its World Report 2019, New York-based Human Rights Watch noted that there were around 500 attacks in 2018 on trans women in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of which at least four were killed.
A 2017 population and housing census showed that there are over 10,000 transgender people in the country. However, rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimated a population of at least 500,000 transgender individuals.