As Pakistan gears for the July 25 election, several transgender candidates are filing their election bids for representation and inclusivity.
"I am contesting for the first time and your vote will give me my identity," Nadeem Kashish told the residents as she went door to door in a low-income neighborhood near the Sufi shrine of Bari Imam, in the north of the capital, AFP reported.
Kashish is fighting from a district where the competing candidates are heavyweights like incumbent Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and opposition leader Imran Khan.
Kashish told AFP that her candidacy goes beyond winning or losing. "We have been given support and space by the government (to contest the elections) and we will use this opportunity with full force," she said.
According to AFP, nearly 13 transgender candidates sought to contest in the 2018 election but nine have withdrawn their candidacy, citing lack of funds.
Earlier in June, Samaa TV reported that eight transgender candidates had said that they recieved death threats from some mainstream party candidates. Most of the candidates are contesting the elections independently, except Nayab Ali and Lubna Lal who will contest on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Gulalai (PTI-G) tickets.
"We should also have transgender representation in the assemblies. No major political party recognizes us or give us a ticket," a transgender candidate, Nayab Ali, also an acid attack survivor, told Samaa Tv in June.
Transgenders, also known as "khawajasiras," in the country, an umbrella term which includes transsexuals, transgender, and eunuchs. The community has long fought for their rights in the patriarchal, deeply conservative society.
In June, Apten, a rights group which focuses on the invisibility of leaders from the transgender community, comprising of several groups, TransAction, the Sindh Transgender Welfare Network, and the Balochistan Alliance for Transgender and Intersex Community and the Punjab Transgender Foundation, presented a charter of demands calling for the removal of systemic barriers to entry of transgender people into politics, and for political parties to include more members of the community into their ranks.
"Given the power of presence, and the paucity of role models in all spheres of life, the potential influence of having transgender-identifying representatives who can stand in the public spotlight and demonstrate the legitimacy, value, and dignity of transgender lives and political claims is huge," TransAction KP President Farzana Jan told the Dawn News.
In May, Pakistan also passed a monumental legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination.
The "Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018" prohibits bias against transgender persons standing or holding public office. The historic measure also seeks to provide comprehensive protections for transgender people in several areas, including employment, education, healthcare, housing, public transportation, among others.
In 2009, Pakistan also became one of the first nations in the world to recognize the third sex, allowing transgenders to obtain identity cards, and contest in elections. According to a local organization, TransAction, at least half a million people in the country identify themselves as transgender.
Altaf Ahmad, a spokesman for the Pakistan Election Commission, told AFP, that transgender voters will be able to choose how they vote based on their identity. "(Transgenders) will have the liberty to vote at the women's polling booth or the men's," he said.