This is part of our annual, series, “14 Days, 14 Stories”, about ordinary Pakistanis who are doing extraordinary things.
The social fabric of Pakistan has created a very strong narrative against the gender and sexual minorities of the country. The concept of a superior gender and a better sexual orientation are ingrained in the minds of the people because they have always believed that their way of existence is normal and anything that negates that is an anomaly.
The concept of a superior gender and a “normal” sexual orientation are ingrained in most of us because we have been led to believe that “our” way of existence is normal and anything that negates that is an anomaly…..all thanks to the all superior patriarchy.
No want wants to know about them nor acknowledge their existence. And many of the ones that do acknowledge them want to hurt them both psychologically and physically.
Minorities in our country are living in conditions that mainstream population rarely empathizes with, acknowledges their existence or actually does something to make it better despite knowing that the conditions they are exposed to are very sub-human
However back in 2011, Dr. Qasim Iqbal decided to do something about this reality. He wanted to help these individuals because no one at the time was interested in investing time and/or energy into the cause. He set up the Naz Pakistan which is the first non-governmental organization which works for the health and human rights of the gender and sexual minorities in Pakistan.
Qasim set up the Naz Male Health Alliance (NMHA), which is the first NGO that works for the rights of the gender and sexual minorities in Pakistan
The idea was to provide financial, technical and institutional support to the sexual and gender minority community to set up their own organizations so they could themselves fight for their rights and improve the sexual health of the community – be it transgenders or males who engage in sex with other males in the country. They mobilized the community to set up centers in five major cities of Pakistan: Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad, and Larkana. These centers are now independent of NAZ and are being successfully being run by the communities that they serve.
The services that the community centers provide include free HIV voluntary counseling and testing, sexually transmitted infection diagnoses and treatment, behavior change communication, condom, and lubricant distribution through outreach and life skills. In addition to that developing self-esteem and capacity development skills and awareness of their human rights are of particular focus at the drop in centers.
The beneficiaries of the services provided are mostly from less privileged backgrounds who cannot afford health, let alone even think about sexual health. This means that an intervention at this point is the best solution to making them understand that protection is very important.
Dr. Qasim Iqbal is of the belief that “everyone” is equal despite their sexual orientation or gender identity and therefore deserve the same privileges awarded to the rest of society. For his work, he has been awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Columbia University (New York) as well as the HERO Award for Social Justice by the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (Bangkok).
At this point in Pakistan, there is very little information about safe sex and how to achieve a healthy sex life
The discussion around protection during sex, the transmission of diseases and their treatment are largely absent. The initiatives that are taken need to be masked because no one wants to admit that intercourse is a part of life and just like other aspects of life, people need to be educated regarding this too. Nearly 20 percent of the Pakistani population suffers from HIV. This means that we are talking about almost 200,000 people, and that number is huge. At the same time, it is important to realize that if the average person is unaware then the gender and sexual minorities like the transgenders are living in the worst possible conditions imaginable due to the lack of resources. It is important to see them as humans and help them out too.
A country which refuses to acknowledge the downside if inter-family marriages can at least learn to practice safe sex.
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For more stories from our series about extraordinary Pakistanis check out “14 Days, 14 Stories”.
cover image via refinery29.com