Ms. Qambar Kashish, Rural Education Economic Development Society (REEDS) volunteer, discussing COVID-19 impacts in the community.
Qambar Kashish is a young transgender woman from the Railway Colony in the Rahim Yar Khan City, Pakistan. She joined the Rural Education Economic Development Society (REEDS) during the COVID-19 pandemic to give her community the support and priority needed.
Rahim Yar Khan City is located in Punjab province. The provincial government imposed lockdowns to control the outbreak, but parameters of the lockdown have constrained many income-generating activities. The pandemic is predicted to force 125 million people below the poverty line in Pakistan.
Qambar takes on many leadership roles for her community. “We have become used to being neglected. I chose to be a voice of support because the pandemic has pushed many of us into a state of helplessness,” she said.
Although they have a space in the community, acceptance is still a distant reality. “We are citizens of Pakistan but outcasts from society. Our community suffers from an inferiority complex that stems from a community that ostracizes and mocks us,” she states.
She conducted an assessment which found that 56 transgender individuals in the area have lost their livelihood resources. “They are unable to access any support from the Pakistani Social Protection Program (Ehsaas) as they do not have ID cards or have not registered because they are not aware that we can receive one,” she explained.
Qambar joined the COVID-19 Task Force Program to progress awareness-raising activities related to prevention and mitigation. “We have ensured that each individual in the community applies proper handwashing, coughing ethics, social distancing, wearing masks, and disinfection,” she said.
The program is geared towards instilling positive behavioral changes in the community as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bridging Policy and Reality
The Pakistan Supreme Court recognized the rights of transgender people in 2009. Unfortunately, systemic change and societal practices are not a unified effort. Marginalized conditions have also limited access to transwomen to education and dignified work conditions.
The transgendered community had long faced stigma and discrimination which makes them reluctant to approach formal channels for support. “We would earn PKR 200-300 (USD 1.30- 1.70) from begging and offerings we received throughout auspicious functions. That has all ceased during isolation and we have fallen into even deeper poverty,” she said.
Starvation and financial struggles become a much more apparent reality that affects more citizens than the pandemic. “REEDS offered to provide information and Rashan packages. I collected district-wise data for distribution to all of the households in a particular area,” she explained.
"The community received packs that contained the food staples that included flour, rice, pulses, spices, oil, sugar, teach, and dry milk. Each package would sustain a family of six to seven for a month,” she added.
Qambar perceives the current crisis as a reminder for the collective responsibility towards marginalized communities. “My request is that you stay at home to practice awareness and use your voice to spread awareness. We are all advocates when we promote and follow safety guidelines,” she said.
The most dedicated advocates arise from the community they serve. Qambar is more than a humanitarian - she is the systemic change that progresses a community.
Read the full story 'Inclusive Solutions against COVID-19' on ADPC's Asian Preparedness Partnership (APP) knowledge portal.