News channel Kohenoor News has made history in Pakistan recently by hiring Marvia Malik as a news anchor, the first transgender person in Pakistan to be hired in such a role. Malik follows in the international footsteps of Padmini Prakash who worked for news show Lotus TV, BBC journalist Apsara Reddy and Britain’s Paris Lee who worked with Channel 4 news.
‘I want to tell the world that nothing is impossible for the transgender community and through the work I do, I wish to not only highlight the plight of my community but also strive for implementation of work which will bring positive change in our lives.’
In December 2017, a Senate committee unanimously approved Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017, which gives transgender people full legal protection, provides a clear definition of ‘transgender’, and provides full access to medical care and other facilities. The Bill, presented by Dr. Karim Khwaja, is a huge step forward in empowering transgender people to officially determine their own gender identity with the legal support of the government.
‘This means that under the proposed law they would not need to appear before a medical board to decide their gender’, said Senator and Chairperson of the Senate Functional Committee of Human Rights, Nasreen Jalil.
LGBT rights have been slow to reach Pakistan and a change of attitude is essential. In 2016, a 23-year-old transgender activist known as Alisha died in hospital after being shot 7 times. Her friends, who were with her during the incident and afterward at the hospital, blame her death on the discriminative attitude of hospital workers who allegedly took hours to decide whether to place Alisha in the male or female operating theatre. According to her friends, men at the hospital taunted them while they waited outside the emergency room, asking if Alisha’s blood was HIV positive and trying to make them leave the hospital and go to a party.
Despite this hugely monumental Bill, same-sex sexual activity is still illegal, although the law is not widely enforced, and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine. Transgender people are not allowed into the army and are currently not allowed to adopt.
The Pakistani media strictly censors LGBT news stories, with a columnist for the Pakistani publication the Daily Times, Farman Nawaz writing for Global Times China cites social media as a key factor in overcoming censorship and changing public opinion. ‘Secular and liberal viewpoints are not given space on the pages of newspapers and news channels in Pakistan and liberals have to wrap their ideas in religion and customs to make them worth publishing. But people have found social media a more accommodating space.’
The negative attitudes towards transgender people and strict media bias make the model and news anchors achievements an essential cornerstone in the progression of Pakistan.
Malik realised she was transgender at the young age of 15 and has since been estranged from her family, working as a makeup artist to fund her education.
‘I want the next generation of young transgender kids to look up to me as an inspiration that they can be accepted and that there can be opportunities for them.’
According to Naz, an NGO providing healthcare for the LGBT Pakistan community, a large percentage of the transgender community are disowned by their families and with few job opportunities, are forced into prostitution and begging, barely existing on the edges of society.
Malik was an instant success in her interview, citing her self-confidence as a major factor in winning over bosses.
‘When I was called for the job interview, I was quite nervous and anxious about how things would unfold. As soon as I was called in, I gave my best and managed to impress my directors, Bilal Ashraf and Junaid Mehmood. They were quite impressed with my confidence, my talent and my ambitions in life, this helped me and I was hired on the spot.’
Bilal Ashraf, director of news for Kohinoor News and Malik’s boss, told CNN that the news channel intends to be more progressive than others, providing opportunities for the ‘disabled, women and individuals from all sorts of backgrounds.’ He continued; ‘We will not discriminate, everyone has dreams, everyone has goals and so much of that talent gets thrown in the dustbin, undiscovered, simply because of biases in society.’ This statement is incredibly progressive for the UK, let alone a country ranked extremely low on tolerance to LGBT, and is full of hope for the future of Pakistan.
Actor Riz Ahmed was among the celebrities to take to social media to congratulate Malik. The ‘Four Lion’s’ star wrote ‘Congratulations to Marvia Malik. In some ways, Pakistan has been ahead of the curve in certain aspects of trans rights. In other ways, it has lagged behind. Hoping we can’t all learn from each other in paving the way to greater inclusion.’
As well as being a news anchor, Malik has also already fit a modelling career into her 21 years, walking the runway for the Pakistan Design Council Fashion Week in Lahore. Malik said of the experience; ‘My runway modelling debut created lots of hype and I was able to get multiple offers from the fashion industry.’
Marvia Malik is paving the way for an inclusive and intelligent future of Pakistan and setting an example to other countries with outdated inclusion legislation. This historic move is at once inspiring, but also highlights the plight of transgender people throughout the world and how much work there is still to do in changing not only legislation but widespread and deep-seated attitudes.