Pakistan has opened its first government-funded school for transgender women, who are often excluded from mainstream education as children in this deeply conservative country.
The country’s Khawaja Sira community dates back hundreds of years and is treated as a third sex in South Asia.
Many are ostracized by their families and rejected by society, earning a living by dancing, begging or prostituting themselves.
Murad Raas, Minister of Education for the Punjab province where the school is based, pledged to provide “education for everyone” by announcing the opening of the school this week in the central city by Multan.
Composed of transgender teachers, the school will offer afternoon classes and vocational training.
A student at Baby Doll School, in her 20s, said the behavior of teachers and other staff at schools she had previously attended was overwhelming.
“The boys teased us and behaved badly with us,” she added.
“We are trying to reestablish the disconnect with education (that transgender people experience),” said Hina Chaudhary, a senior official in the Punjab’s education department, who plans to open more such schools.
There is an activist community in Pakistan fighting for transgender rights, and earlier this year the first transgender-only madrasa, or Islamic religious school, opened in the capital Islamabad.
However, the community continues to face abuse and stigma.
They have traditionally been called upon to perform rituals such as blessing newborns or bringing weddings and parties to life.
“People see us as a means of entertainment when we go out,” said student Hania Henny.
“But the staff are extremely polite at school. The difference between school life and life outside is that we feel relaxed here.”