WASHINGTON – Pakistani viewers on March 23 saw something they had never seen before –a transgender presenter presenting the news in prime time.
Despite this giant leap, Marvia Malik, the country’s first and only transgender news anchor, said the hardships faced by people like her in Pakistan were far from over.
“I graduated in journalism, but encountered the same difficulties [as] transgender people who beg or just dance in the streets, ”Malik told VOA in a telephone interview.
In a country like Pakistan, it is common to make fun of transgender people, who should make a living mainly by dancing, begging or working in the sex trade.
The most difficult task for them is to get a respectable job. But Malik said if more entrepreneurs and businesses show more courage to break social taboos as an employer, “Kohenoor News”, things can change.
“Like other trans people, I did not receive any support from my family. On my own, I did some odd jobs and continued my education. I had always wanted to be a news anchor, and my dream was came true when I was selected, “she said.
Junaid Ansari, owner of the TV channel, told VOA that Malik was not selected because the channel wanted to argue that taboos should be broken. Ansari said he asked his team to make the selection on the basis of merit, not gender.
“We had asked the aspiring news anchors to come in for the auditions. I got a call from one of my team members who said one of the candidates was transgender,” Ansari said.
There was a bit of a backlash from his side, but Ansari stuck with his decision.
“They are also human beings, and they should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I made the decision purely on the basis of the equal treatment of all humans. The idea of defying social norms or breaking taboos didn’t even cross my mind, ”Ansari said.
Ansari said comments about Malik’s hiring were mostly positive, although the station received negative comments.
In the Pakistani Twittersphere and other social media platforms, people praise Malik’s selection, calling it a step in the right direction.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani Senate approved a bill to protect transgender rights. The bill called on the government to provide job opportunities and easy installment loans for transgender people.
According to the 2017 census, there are more than 10,000 transgender people in Pakistan, a much higher number according to some.
In the meantime, Malik is enjoying his instant fame.
“There is a lot of difference between the Marvia before and after March 23. It had to happen. The change had to come,” she said.