Five transgender women are running in Pakistan’s general election this week, which is the highest ever number of trans nominees in the country.
Nayyab Ali, Nadeem Kashish, Lubna Lal, Alamgir (aka Maria) and Zahid Khan (aka Resham) will take part in the July 25 vote.
Three of the candidates are reportedly running for seats in the National Assembly and the other two are contesting seats in provincial legislatures.
At the start of the election campaign, 13 transgender candidates allegedly filed their nomination papers, but nine were forced to drop out, due to lack of funds.
Two of the candidates are running for the Tehreek-e-Insaf- G political party and three are running as independents.
Many of the women have faced a turbulent path into politics, in the country where homosexuality is illegal, but where a third gender has been recognised since 2009.
Candidate Nayyab Ali is a survivor of an acid attack by her former boyfriend, and her life as a transgender woman has been full of hardship.
According to an interview with the BBC, the 26-year-old was forced to leave home when she was 13 after being physically and sexually abused by relatives.
Ali told TIME Magazine that she wants to stand up for human rights, “we are not just the voice of the transgender community, we are also the voice of women and minorities,” she said. “If you want a real change, vote transgender.”
In May, Pakistan passed new legislation guaranteeing basic rights for its estimated 500,000 transgender citizens – including intersex people, transvestites and eunuchs – and banning discrimination against them.
But Alamgir (aka) Maria, who is standing as an independent candidate says that hate crimes, or so-called honour killings are the biggest risk to the transgender community.
“Our own family hires people to murder us,” she told the BBC.
“I barely survived an assassination attempt when shots were fired at my house in Mansehra. There are still bullet holes all over my front door,” Maria added.
Nadeem Kashish is also running as an independent candidate and faces tough competition as she’s running against former Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi.
“I’m not considered a real threat,” Kashish told TIME Magazine.
Kashish’s family disowned her at a young age, and now she lives in a group home of transgender people in one of Islamabad’s worst slums, according to TIME.
The 35-year-old, who is currently a radio host, had an inspiring message for those who feel different in society.
“My voice has traveled far, it’s reaching the whole world,” she said. “This is my victory; if you go in front of people and show your character, they will accept you,” she told TIME.
Less is publicly known about candidates Zahid Kahn (aka Resham) who is contesting from NA- 69 (Gujrat) and Lubna Lal, a PTI-G candidate contesting from PP-26 (Jehlum).
According to one news site, Lal previously ran for candidacy in 2013. Lal reportedly said: “If I win, I will also become a strong voice for transgender people, who are often victimized and humiliated.”