It is ironic how, despite all the comfort and facilitities in our households, we still feel devastated by this isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. Be it the introverts or the extroverts, no one seems quite happy with the government imposing lockdowns and restricting people to their homes.
While all of us are trying to figure out our lives under the lockdown, there is a community that has been kept isolated ages – the transgender community.
How coronavirus is affecting the already isolated trangender community
With the entire world crippled by the novel coronavirus, our authorities’ main focus right now is on containing the spread of the virus and recovering from the pandemic. But our recovery plan will not be effective if we forget our most vulnerable communities.
The lockdown leaves Pakistan’s transgender community at heightened risk of poverty and ill health because the community mostly lives on the margins of society, trying to earn their living through private parties and begging.
In one widely reported case, hospital staff were unwilling to treat transgender patients. For example, in August 2016, after assailants shot a trans woman when she resisted abduction and rape, the district hospital refused to admit her, saying they only had male and female wards. She died while waiting.
In an interview to PashtoScoop Media, Mehek, a trans woman who works with the Trans Action Pakistan on transgender livelihood issues, said Pakistan’s estimated 3 lakh trans people would be among those worst hit by the move because many make their living on the streets. Now in deserted streets, these individuals fend from themselves without a dime in their pockets and no marriage or private parties that they can perform at. The lockdown robbed them of their souls.
Hence, most of the transwomen, referred to as ‘Hijragan’ in the Pashtun community, earn their living by begging at busy intersections, performing at social functions or private parties and selling sex. With little savings and social security benefits, many have a massive challenge to deal with the depleting food supplies.
Lack of medical attention and healthcare for the transgender community
Pakistani law includes provisions to protect the rights of transgender people. In 2009, The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its ruling had said that transgenders have equal rights yet they are still denied family support, jobs, education and healthcare due to the prejudices against them.
According to a report by the National Centre for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Trans adults are also more likely to rate their health as poor or fair in comparison to others. More than 1 out of 5 transgender adults have at least one or more chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis or asthma.
With hospitals already so overburdened by the Covid-19 crisis, if a transgender person wants to have a surgery it will be looked down upon more and will be lower on their priority list. With the healthcare workers already so overburdened, their hormone therapy requirement has become almost difficult for them which not only causes physiological but psychological damage also.
Another concern is the difficulty of HIV treatments during the pandemic: there’s a strong inter-connection between HIV and sex workers and a lot of transgenders are prone to this virus and HIV-positive trans persons are having difficulty finding access to life-saving drugs and treatments amid the lockdown.
Measures to help the marginalised communities during the pandemic
Lockdowns, quarantine, and the closure of businesses have significant economic consequences. The most vulnerable people are low-wage workers, and those who rely on the informal economy.
The government has a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its marginalised communities but instead of being committed to providing relief to them, the government has done nothing for these people writhed in despair.
While the state government has taken no relief measures so far for the marginalised, a high-ranking official in Karachi till now has reassured the transgender community there that the government would support them during a province-wide lockdown due to COVID-19.
Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Shalwani told reporters that transgenders were also a part of our society, and assured that they would not be left out. “We are committed to providing them with all possible help,” he said.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should also follow commissioner Shalwani’s steps and should ensure that all healthcare services related to COVID-19 are provided without stigma and discrimination of any kind.
The government should now take steps in forming a specific COVID 19 crisis management team for the marginalised community that would address new issues and closely monitor all the latest developments with the pandemic.
The government should be mindful of including trans people in welfare programming and assign dedicated personnel for the tiger force announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan that assesses the problems faced by the marginalised communities.
For the worse, there are some individual public-led groups that are aiming at raising money through crowdfunding platforms, sensitising the public about the issues faced by the community and raising money to source basic food provisions.