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Trans woman begged on the streets after fleeing home. Now she’s Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer

Emma Powys Maurice November 30, 2020
Nisha Rao

Nisha Rao is breaking barriers as Pakistan's first transgender lawyer (Reuters)

A trans woman who begged on the streets to survive is now fighting for her community as Pakistan’s first-ever transgender lawyer.

Nisha Rao ran away from home at the age of 18 without a penny to her name. She found refuge with the transgender community of Karachi, who advised her to beg or become a sex worker to earn a living.

She fought against the odds to turn her life around, using her meagre wage to pay for night classes and pull herself out of poverty.

“I’ve faced many problems during my law education,” she told Reuters. “I didn’t have money for books or college fees, so I had to beg at traffic signals in the streets during the daytime and take classes in the evening.”

After ten years of hard grifting Rao finally gained her law license with the Karachi Bar Association. Now 28, she knows what it is to live on the margins of society and she’s using the power of the law to lift up others like her.

“I deal mostly with harassment cases for both women and transgender people. So far I have appeared in court [with] more than 50 people,” she said proudly.

“I have represented more than 20 transgender [people] and have got relief from them.”

Outside the courts she’s working with a NGO to fight for trans rights in her country, and she’s also established the first-ever Christian church for transgender people.

“I am a Muslim child and a Muslim transgender, but I had a pain in my heart for the Christian transgender [people],” she told AP.

It means everything to the congregation, who can finally find peace and solace after being shunned by their religious communities.

A recent census counted more than 10,000 transgender people in Pakistan, although trans rights groups believe the number is much higher as many live in secret.

As of 2018 transgender Pakistanis are allowed to self-identity their own gender, but old stigmas still remain and people like Rao are persecuted every day.

The current is changing slowly, and some trans people are managing to break through the barriers to advocate for their communities. It’s a long road to equality though, and Nisha Rao isn’t done yet.

“I am proud to have become Pakistan first transgender lawyer,” she said. “My goal is to become Pakistan’s first transgender judge.”

More: Karachi, NIsha Rao, Pakistan

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