ISLAMABAD, May 11 (UPI Next) -- At least seven transgender candidates are running in today's elections, seeking national and provincial seats just a year after a court order recognized the right of the deeply marginalized "third gender" to contest elections and to vote.
The political representation follows a 2011 order from Pakistan's high court permitting transgendered citizens to register for national identity cards as a third gender, rather than choosing between male and female.
There are, by one government estimate, as many as a half a million open homosexuals, cross dressers, transsexuals and people with indeterminate gender -- known collectively as "eunuchs." Often evicted from homes and schools, they can face brutal discrimination. Frequently, they must resort to begging, dancing or prostitution for money.
However, many remain distrustful of the conservative cultural biases and the political system, refusing to vote -- even for one of their own. These candidates can be seen as self-serving, rather than doing anything beneficial for the sexual minorities often shut out of society.
"We will not cast our votes because we know we will not get any benefit from politicians, whether from our community or not," Lilly, one of three such eunuchs recently begging in an Islamabad market, told UPI Next.
After the court ruling, several transgendered candidates said recently that they want to fight for all of Pakistan's minorities.
Zahid, alias Resham, 40, is campaigning for a provincial assembly seat from Gujrat City in Punjab province.
"I am contesting elections for members of my community," she said. "I want to raise their issues on political platforms."
"We are not born only to become sex workers, to dance for others and hold begging bowls," she told UPI Next, but are human beings as well.
"We need to be considered members of the society," she said.
Her story is familiar among transgendered Pakistanis in a society that openly scorns homosexuality and generally rejects sex outside of marriage.
The National Database and Registration Authority has registered only 687 transgender Pakistanis since the court ruling, data shows.
"It may be because being eunuch is a taboo in our society, so they do not turn up to NADRA even though we started registering them as transgender after Supreme Court orders." Sajad Khan, a spokesman for the agency, said.
Despite the presence of transgender candidates in today's election, the group apparently has a long way to go in terms of political acceptance.
Samson Salamat, the director of the Lahore-based Center for Human Rights Education, said major political parties are not paying attention to the transgendered population.
"It seems they are not ready to think about transgender as a group of society. No political party, so far, has even mentioned them in their manifestos leave alone talking about their issues." Salamat, whose organization works for transgendered Pakistanis' rights, told UPI Next.