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Pakistani university offers free study for transgender students

Civil society members protest discrimination against women and transgender people on June 14, 2016 in Karachi, Pakistan. Source: Shutterstock

A university in the world’s second largest Muslim country is offering scholarships for transgender people in a bid to promote inclusion and opportunity for the marginalised group.

Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – an institution with the motto “education for all” – announced this week that it is launching a scholarship specifically aimed at educating Pakistan’s transgender community.

The university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Shahid Siddiqui said “we have multiple successful programs running for marginalised and stigmatised segments of the society.”

“Now we have decided to launch a program for the amelioration of transgender people of Pakistan. Through this program, we hope to return their long-lost self-respect and dignity.”

Pakistan has a traditional culture of recognising Khawaja Sira – a third gender believed by many to be “God’s chosen people.”

While they are revered by many and thought to be able to bless or curse other people, Pakistan’s transgender community nevertheless faces discrimination and social marginalisation. Muslim-majority Pakistan criminalises homosexuality.

In June this year, Pakistan granted its first third-gender passport after legally recognising transgender people in 2009. Advocacy groups estimate there are around half a million transgender Pakistanis in the nation of 207 million.

Applicants for AIOU’s transgender scholarship program must apply by October 10 for the autumn semester. The university also offers free education to disabled students.

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