A FIT project is providing an option that will not only secure their livelihood but also integrate them into society.
It’s not easy being a transgender in Pakistan. Aashi’s story is typical. She’s a 41-year-old transgender, who was born Muhammad Nawaz into a mechanic’s family in Gujrat. Sent to a boys’ school but not identifying himself as a boy, young Muhammad was mercilessly teased by schoolfellows and, unsurprisingly, became depressed and left school after the 8th class. He also faced pressure from his two brothers, who were mocked because of him, and left home aged just 13.
He joined a group of transgenders in the town of Raiwind, took the female name of Aashi, and was taught to dance. A guru, to whom they give a share of their earnings, headed up the group. As often as not, Aashi was expected to perform sexual services at the parties where she danced; or to beg.
Few sections of Pakistan’s population suffer more than the transgender community from stigmatisation, rejection and isolation. And it’s an economic problem as well as a social one. Often forced to leave education early, transgenders typically end up working as dancers, sex workers or beggars. For few career options are available to them.
As they reach middle age transgenders find it increasingly difficult to contribute to their small community through any of these activities. Those who can establish themselves as guru of their own group. For those who can’t, the future is very bleak indeed.
The loneliness that transgenders suffer is immense, says Shafqat-ur-Rehman, project manager of the Transgender Project at the Punjab Vocational and Technical College (PVTC) in Lahore.
“Few will even know their nieces or nephews or inherit a share of the family home, for the family risks sharing the stigma,” Shafqat-ur-Rehman. “Most end up living with others in small groups of 5-6, headed up by a guru to whom they give a share of their earnings from begging or sex work–for few other career paths are open to them.”
That’s why the GIZ are lending a hand. They are co-funding a one-year FIT project in Lahore called the Industrial Garments Stitching Training to Poor Women & Transgenders. It’s designed to help transgenders—and others—acquire the skills to thrive in Pakistan’s vibrant garment-making sector, become integrated into society, and earn a viable livelihood.
Operating since 2012, the GIZ project offers six-month courses in skills relevant to the garment industry. “Industrial sewing is a viable option because clothing is a huge industry in Pakistan with corresponding demand for people who can use the machines,” says the course’s main trainer Tariq Kaleem.
No less than fifty-four of the first intake of 60 people completed the course successfully. And the second intake, —including Aashi—is due to complete training in July.
The course curriculum was designed by GIZ, which also provided help in “training the trainers”. Skills in which training is offered include working with the machines, methods of stitching, cutting, designing and measuring, fashion and style, costing and quality, and sales and marketing.
These skills are very marketable and all 54 trainees who completed the first course are now working. “Once they have completed the course, and can show their samples, the factory owners are happy to employ them,” says Kaleem, who helps place them in partner companies.
Indeed, things can go beyond just being employed. “It’s relatively easy to set up in the garment industry once you’re established and have a client base, and these ladies have a good aesthetic sense,” notes Kaleem. A sewing machine costs 35,000 rupees, which—ca. US$350—is not an impossibly large sum, while the course includes entrepreneurial and managerial skills, not just sewing. And ambitions are not lacking: asked who would like to end up with her own business, about half the hands shoot up.
The courses offer not only a mainstream career, but also greater integration into society. Integrating into the mainstream is not an easy process, and starts with the classes themselves where the Transgenders learn their skills alongside a group of 300 women.
Nonetheless the transition is a bumpy process and to help them through it the project appoints a liaison officer to help them adjust to their new lives, settle in and stay motivated.
And this effort is appreciated by Aashi. The 41-year-old now has the skills to ensure that she has a future. In fact, she is now herself a class Guru and helps motivate the rest of the young transgenders to stick with the course. One day she hopes to start her own industrial garment-stitching business. And, back home, her mother is still alive and extremely pleased about Aashi’s new life style.
This is just one of a large number of projects being co-funded by the EU to help build the vocational and technical skills that Pakistan needs to create jobs, develop its competitiveness and offer a viable future for its burgeoning young population.
TVET Reform Support Programme At Glance
says project manager Shafqat-ur-Rehman