Julie’s story, Pakistan
Photos by © Nida MehboobPrevention of GBV
Julie was born in a small, typical village near Faisalabad into a typical Pakistani family, yet she was anything but. Julie is a transgender woman. Like most transgender people in Pakistan, she was abandoned by her family. She was 10. Begging on the streets, dancing at parties and sex work replaced school and playing with friends. Her focus was to survive. And some days were harder than others, like when she was gang raped. One day she decided to speak out and to fight. This fight has grown and it has shaped her. Most of all, this fight is not over. This is Julie’s story.
After Julie was outcast from her family, she had to slowly start again. Eventually, she formed a new and unconventional family and found a place to call home in Islamabad. Here is a rare photograph of Julie in her teens with her sister and brother who were the only ones who fully accepted her gender expression.
“I cannot live with my family members because of my gender expression. I miss them all the time. I celebrate all occasions alone. I wish to live in my home with the freedom of my gender expression. I will fight for it until my last breath and one day I will go back home and they will accept me as their daughter.”
Julie’s job often brings her back to her community, where she delivers training, focused on the importance of sexual health and rights of trans women. This session included information on safe health practices and rights.
Asha and Noor were the only members from the trans community who openly supported Julie’s fight against a mob that gang raped her in 2016. They were threatened by the gang, but kept coming to the protests that Julie was leading.
After work, Julie often enjoys time with friends, such as during a birthday party, as seen above. Dancing and music are a big part of the trans community and great pride is taken in these skills, as trans women will use this to earn a living at private parties. Such gatherings are often very private and intimate, though, as they are looked down upon by the majority of society.
This is Mateen, Julie’s boyfriend of 10 years. Because of his religious background he was forced to leave his family to be with Julie. In Pakistan it’s illegal for a trans person to marry a cisgender person.
After being the victim of gang rape in 2016, Julie sought legal support from the Forum for Dignity Initiatives (Fdi). She didn’t know it at the time, but Julie wasn’t just taking one fight on that day, as her request for support led to a job with Fdi. Quickly, Julie became a sexual health and rights advocate for youth and for the transgender community, where she began addressing the vulnerability and needs of this marginalised group. Here, she is providing a Youth Friendly Health Services training to nursing students at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad.
Julie has grown into a respected leader and advocate on trans rights and health, not just regionally, but nationally and internationally. She regularly addresses the inequality and violence that too often and overwhelmingly impact this community. Here she is seen speaking with the Human Rights Minister of Pakistan, Shireen Mazari (top right), about the inclusion of trans children into future seminars. Last year she was invited to speak at the UN headquarters during the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development.
In 2020, Julie will support FDi in engaging with the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)’s review of the situation for women and girls in Pakistan. Together with partners, they are calling on the Pakistani Government to take decisive action in addressing the many obstacles transgender women and girls face in accessing SRH services.
Julie’s perseverance for justice and her charisma are unquestionably contributing to the advancement and awareness of transgender rights globally. Unfortunately, her daily struggles as a trans woman in Pakistan are not unique. Yet her spirit and her battles against these injustices are extraordinary and this is undoubtably only the beginning of her story.