Pakistan’s first trans-police officer Reem Sharif, after facing death threats, trans-phobic slurs and sexual harassment in college, is now protecting other trans people from violence.
During her first two months as a trans victim service officer, Sharif assisted 16 trans people during Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan’s most populated province, as well as receiving about 40 trans visitors from the station who came ‘out of curiosity.’
‘The other day, we got a call from a trans woman whose brothers tried to kill her. I went and spoke to them about realizing that their brother had always been a son,’ said 32-year-old Sharif.
‘In another case, a woman was thrown out of her home for being a Trans person, and I was able to avoid that,’ she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Trans people are making legal gains in Pakistan recognised as a third gender since 2009 and counted for the first time in 2017-a census of 10,418 trans people in a country of 207 million, even though the number of charities is limited to 500,000.
However, incomprehension, violence and bigotry are still rife, according to activists, with many trans people – whose gender identity does not suit their sex at birth – denied employment, education and healthcare and removed from their families.
Pakistani culture is predominantly patriarchal, with women mostly living in isolation at home. Gay sex is widely regarded as immoral and un-Islamic and punishable by life imprisonment.
Sharif’s abuses at college-which she described as ‘the worst years of my life’-made her depressed and sick, and she had to complete her online degree in international relations. She also failed to earn her family’s approval.
‘For my parents, I have always been a source of embarrassment,’ said Sharif, the youngest of five siblings. ‘One of them told me that if people find out about me, he’d have a problem getting his kids married. I was really upset, but I said that they don’t have to say anybody about my existence; in any case, we live in different places, and I help myself.
Sharif said that people are taking her ‘more seriously’ now that she is working for the Tahafuz Center, the first-of-its-kind Rawalpindi Police pilot project to protect transgender people, which began operating on May 12. He thinks he will have a positive effect on the police, who sometimes harass beggars and sex workers for the bribery-the only job open to many trans people.
‘The police … treats (trans people) with disrespect and disgust, because they too belong to the same community and have the same mentality as the rest of them,’ said Sharif. By settling conflicts and offering assistance to victims in Rawalpindi every day, she also shows that trans people can take on leadership roles.
‘Unless (trans people) have role models to emulate, they will continue to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors who have survived begging, dancing or performing sex work,’ she said. ‘So when they see a transgender policewoman or a news reporter or a lawyer, they will know that they can dream and hope to reach out to the stars.’