UNESCO and Embassy of France Host Discussion on Lives and Rights of Transgender Persons in Pakistan, Marking Closure of ‘Zakhmi Dil’ Art Exhibition

The UNESCO Field Office in Islamabad, in collaboration with the Embassy of France, hosted a discussion on the lives and rights of transgender persons in Pakistan on 12 February 2024. The event marked the closing of an art exhibition titled ‘Zakhmi Dil’ by artist Amra Khan, at Khaas Gallery. The event was attended by foreign dignitaries, government officials, and creative professionals.

UNESCO Director Dr Youssef Filali-Meknassi highlighted UNESCO’s efforts to empower marginalized groups in Pakistan through innovative approaches in education, arts and culture, and access to information. He spoke about UNESCO’s recent efforts to provide education opportunities to transgender persons in South Punjab, with a particular emphasis on skills development, offering training in trades such as stitching, cooking, and beauty parlor services. The core concept driving this initiative is that education empowerment serves as a catalyst to reduce their economic and social vulnerability, fostering enhanced inclusion within society.

His Excellency, Mr Nicolas Galey, Ambassador of France to Pakistan expressed reaffirmed his country’s commitment to supporting equal rights for all persons, and appreciated the artist’s powerful work. Dr Ehtasham Anwar, Commissioner of Bahawalpur, shared the efforts undertaken to provide education and employment opportunities for transgender persons in South Punjab. He highlighted the achievements of transgender persons who were in attendance, including Ms Alisha Sherazi – the first transgender PhD candidate in Pakistan.

Ms Reem Sharif, Deputy Director of the Transgender Protection Centre at the Ministry of Human Rights spoke about the services provided by the Centre including legal and medical support, and skills development initiatives. She highlighted key aspects of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Acts passed in 2018. She shared her personal journey of becoming the first transgender person to be employed by the Government of Pakistan at a senior position. At the same time, she emphasized that despite many remarkable gains, there is still a lot of work needed to ensure social protection and acceptance for transgender persons across Pakistan.

Members of the audience joined in the conversation and discussed the need to create further avenues for marginalized groups to be able to express their identities, share their stories, challenge stereotypes, and build bridges of understanding within the broader society. Many expressed their appreciation of the use of art as a medium for social change.

The evening concluded with a tour of the exhibition and a discussion on the artwork by artist Amra Khan. Amra Khan is an inter disciplinary visual artist and educator, based in Lahore. Her work explores themes of the presence of opposing ideas and personalities living in the same body, conflicting gender, religion, the male power, and identity.

The exhibition focuses on themes of gender identity and expression through the depiction of transgender persons in private spaces. The artist utilized fragments of old furniture, wooden frames, and other objects to add sculptural elements to her acrylic paintings. The paintings explore the private lives of transgender persons, in contrast with their public personas, and challenges widely held stereotypes and misconceptions.

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