A landmark decision has been taken in Pakistan to allow trans people their own gender category on selected official documents.

The country’s Supreme Court has ruled that Pakistanis who do not consider themselves to be either male or female should be allowed to choose an alternative sex when they apply for their national identity cards.

This is startling and positive news given the conservative climate in Pakistan, a country where trans people – known as hijras – are often ridiculed and forced to live in isolation. Many struggle for survival and are unable to secure jobs other than sex work, or even find a place to live away from their families. Often, they are reduced to begging.

Illiteracy rates among trans Pakistanis are also reportedly high.

Shehzadi, a trans woman living in Karachi, told the BBC that it was indeed “a difficult life” and that she had known she didn’t fit into either gender since the age of six. She left home as soon as she could, she said, and came to live with other trans people.

With the new gender category comes new hope, and some trans men and women are already being employed by the government in their drive to crack down on tax evaders. Those interviewed by the BBC said they were “proud” to be working in such a role.