A 21-year-old journalist is making headlines in Pakistan by becoming the country’s first transgender news anchor.
Pakistan’s social networks were abuzz following Marvia Malik’s first on-air appearance on the March 23 and in the days since she’s gone viral across Facebook and Twitter, with many lauding the move as progress for transgender rights in Pakistan.
Malik, a trainee anchor at Lahore-based channel Kohenoor News, is pleased with the attention that she’s received but insists more needs to be done when it comes to improving the lives of Pakistan’s transgender community.
A graduate of journalism from Punjab University, Malik told CNN she applied for the position since she wanted to prove that people from the transgender community “are capable of any job, and can do anything they want.”
“I want to show the country that we are more than objects of ridicule … that we are also human,” she said.
According to Pakistan’s most recent census in 2017, which recorded the country’s transgender population for the first time, there are close to 10,000 individuals who identify as transgender across the country of almost 200 million.
Earlier this month the country’s senate passed a landmark bill to protect the rights of the country’s transgender community.
The bill’s provisions include enabling individuals the right to change their gender on national identity cards, inherit property and not be discriminated against if pursuing a seat in public office.
While the bill was praised by rights groups and activists, Malik insists that there needs to be a change in society’s attitudes for such laws to actually be taken seriously and implemented.
Malik said she realized she was transgender “at a very young age.” She is estranged from her family and has been providing for herself financially since she was 15 years old.
“I want the next generation of young transgender kids to look up to me as an inspiration that they can be accepted and that there can be opportunities for them,” Malik said.
Disowned by their families and without access to job opportunities many from the transgender community are forced into prostitution and begging, eking out a living on the fringes of society, according to Naz, an NGO that provides healthcare for the LGBT community in Pakistan.
In March 2017, the Ministry of Health released data that showed that transgender sex workers are the second most-vulnerable group to HIV and AIDS in the country.
Malik’s boss, Bilal Ashraf, the director news for Kohinoor News, told CNN that when going through Malik’s audition he hadn’t realized that she was transgender.
Ashraf said that Kohinoor News aims to be a more progressive news channel for Pakistan, providing opportunities to the “disabled, women and individuals from all sorts of background.”
“We will not discriminate, everyone has dreams, everyone has goals and so much of that talent gets thrown into the dustbin, undiscovered, simply because of the biases in society,” Ashraf said.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the network that hired Malik.