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Interview with Aradhiya Khan — Pakistani Transgender Activist


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/10/22

Edits by Muhammad Salman Khan

‘Aradhiya Khan’ who happens to be a 20 year old student college student and transgender rights activist from Karachi, Pakistan.

Aradhiya has attended workshop citizen journalism, and different human rights, digital security, sexual rights trainings. She has voluntarily worked with different transgender organizations such as PECHRA Organization Sindh Transgender Welfare Network, HYPE Network (Rutgers WPF), Sub Rang society, and has also served as election’s observer of (Election Commission of Pakistan) and (FAFEN) Free and Fair Election Network of for the general elections of 2018.

She’s a passionate activist and student who is dedicated to work as a change maker, she wants to further advance her work and bring more visibility and representation the Pakistani transgender community by promoting equality and human rights in Pakistan.

Aradhiya’s work focuses on advocacy, social change action and sensitization public that empowers the transgender community by working against gender violence, transgender discrimination and sexual diseases in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, Aradhiya has actively campaigned against attacks transgender community and also highlighted the issue of transgender discrimination and violence on national and international media, e.g., Cutacut, Express Tribune & Al Jazeera. Also, she’s a peace ambassador for the #Kindness campaign of UNESCO.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have been interviewed in a number of publications. In particular, you have been interviewed on a bathroom controversy, LGBTQ+ issues, human rights concerns and as a sexual abuse survivor.

Regarding the bathroom, and trans issues generally, how can society respect the human rights of trans individuals in society?

Aradhiya Khan: As a Pakistani human right defender and an intersectionalist transgender activist, I work towards the emancipation of oppressed communities e.g. women, gender and ethnic minorities to fight for their human rights.

It is quite hard sometimes to stand up for something you believe in and for fighting for that too. I believe we only have one life to bring change; we can better contribute towards changing things and well-being of the people. There is nothing more important than caring about people, the environment, and even animals — I believe we must be selfless in our work and dedication.

Activism in Pakistan is a tough job and on an individual level, I’m doing everything on my own as a volunteer with many non-profit organizations. Highlighting issues in as a human rights defender and transgender rights advocate.

Growing up in Pakistan has been tough since I moved back from Abu Dhabi, the racism and discrimination faced here while growing up were at times too much to deal with. Similarly, working has been hard, getting jobs have been harder and even now I’m not an employed person.

All my work is on an individual level. I face much harassment for that. Even with my activism, I have been discriminated against and I continue to struggle with my education.

My message to the LGBTQI+ community of Pakistan and all over the world is a message of love. Love is what makes us who we really are. We should strive to promote love, acceptance and equality for all. We should support one another rather than discriminate each other in the LGBTQ+ community or someone’s race, colour, or gender.

We must be proud of our gender identity, being an LGBTQ+ person in Pakistan is to love yourself. My message is to love yourself and accept yourself without any reservations.

We need love and support from our allies and our LGBTQI+ community. Without your love, it is impossible for us to embrace ourselves and live our lives with love and equality because my fight is for basic human rights for all.

As a transgender person, I’m very happy the transgender community in Pakistan is able to fight for their rights and empower everyone around them despite being marginalized and oppressed, we are moving forward as a community.

I blog my personal experiences on an individual level. I together with other LGBTQI+ community activists have always been highlighting issues of the transgender community of Pakistan. My brother, as a gay person and human rights defender, is also a journalist, who has written extensively on transgender rights.

We don’t wish for immediate change to happen, even as a gay person my brother had a hard time to even find a positive role model or support in the country.

I seek to inspire people. As an activist, I highlight the issues of my community, in order to improve their quality of life and bring visibility to the transgender community.

Jacobsen: With regards to the LGBTQ+ issues, what tends to the mainstream problems for the community?

Khan: The LGBT community has no acceptance here, despite the growing acceptance and visibility live is harder for the transgender community.

No one has the right to criticize people who have a different sexuality or gender identity. If someone is born gay, they are born like that and it was never a choice.

We live in a conservative, patriarchal, and hetero-normative society. People who different are treated as ‘foreign’. Those of us who are evening trying to make a difference are harassed and discriminated. I’m constantly made fun of whenever I go out in the public and such behaviour is problematic.

I’m brave and confident with my identity and my work. But, sometimes, it is hard. I have a brother who is proud LGBTQI human rights defender. He is open about his sexuality and I’m as her sister to support him.

Jacobsen: Also, what are some overlooked issues for the LGBTQ+ community in Pakistan?

Khan: If you’re talking about the whole spectrum, they are not visible. The transgender community compare to other LGBT spectrum members are more accepted due to our culture and traditions.

In Pakistan, lesbian and gay people are not that visible or even publically out. The transgender community has fought for decades for their rights and only recently were we able to pass a Bill to protect transgender rights.

Just this year, Chief Justice of Pakistan has announced to process CNIC (Computerized National Identity Cards) without any hurdles. I have my own now but still, there is a lot that needs to be done. One of which is to have reserved seats in the parliament.

Transgender community in Pakistan is getting much-needed visibility and acceptance as news anchors, models, entrepreneurs, singers, and much more. This is definitely empowering, but still, things are not as we please in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north where there have been high number of killings as compared to other regions of Pakistan.

Every year hundreds of transgender persons are being murdered there and there was an incident recently, where a transgender by the name of Nazo was brutally murdered in Peshawar.

She was shot to death and hacked into pieces. When I heard about the incident, I had tears in my eyes. Someone send me the pictures of Nazo on my Whatsapp. When I saw images of her body, I wasn’t able to sleep that day!

Most transgender persons do not live with their family, they normally leave and live on their own with the transgender community. I’m quite blessed to be happily living with my family.

Jacobsen: What have effective activist strategies for the implementation of the equal rights of trans Pakistani citizens?

Khan: Only five years ago, the state of transgender community was in a dismal state. Only after decades of struggle were we able to achieve our rights.

Now we see ‘Transgender protection bill’ being passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan. Businesses are opening up and providing employment for the transgender community and even educational institutes are offering free courses.

People need to come and sit with the transgender community, they should not stereotype us or isolate us from mainstream society.

We are a marginalized community, the recent elections made history as we saw a record number of transgender activists were able to participate in elections the first time.

Jacobsen: What still needs to be done for the trans Pakistani citizens to become equals in the society?

Khan: The implementation of the bill is the need of the hour especially when it comes to issues of inheritance, jobs, education, discrimination/ harassment and healthcare all should be given top priority.

For the transgender community, our universities, schools and educational institutes should be more inclusive. Transgender persons must also be provided with free vocational training and skill development courses that provide jobs.

Jacobsen: Regarding #MeToo, it has spawned other movements and raised awareness of abuse of people by those with power over them or simply in intimate relationships, or in purported ‘corrective’ forms of rape, and others.

How can begin to develop more empathy for the marginal in society who come forward to have compassion, respect, and work towards implantation of justice in the legal system?

Khan: I’m an active advocate of the #MeToo movement, I still remember that I was interviewed for the harassment and abused I faced growing as a trans girl. I have to say first, I was quite scared and I did not know what the reaction of the public would be!

I was scared of sharing my experience on camera; I was just too camera shy but I wanted to be an inspiration and a role model for someone. But I wanted to share my story with the world so that people struggling with their lives can help themselves and through my interview, I’m empowering millions.

I feel much more empowered, capable, and inspiring; I can share my own story because I was not the person who did wrong. I was the survivor. Something was not wrong with me. I did nothing wrong.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Aradhiya.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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