Pakistan's first trans lawyer makes strides to become first trans judge

Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, Nisha Rao, continues to defy the odds and breaks glass ceilings with her success.

Nisha Rao speaks with her colleagues as Pakistan's first trans lawyer
Image Source: Nisha Rao, 28, a transgender woman who became country's first practicing lawyer, talks with her colleagues at district City Court in Karachi, Pakistan November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Nisha Rao, a 28-year-old from Pakistan has consistently climbed every barrier in front of her. From being born into poverty to becoming Pakistan’s first trans lawyer, Rao is ready to take on her next challenge of trying to become Pakistan’s first trans judge.

After running away from her home in the eastern city of Lahore with two other transgender people, Rao arrived in Pakistan’s largest city: Karachi. Even though she was encouraged by older transgender people to become a sex worker to survive, Rao spent much of her time begging at traffic lights for money. After saving everything that she could, she was able to go to law school where she earned her law degree and license. Rao is now apart of the Karachi Bar Association.

“I am proud to have become Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer”, Rao told Reuters.

In the conservative Islamic Republic of Pakistan, LGBTQ+ rights are still a controversial issue, where those of the LGBTQ+ community are treated as outcasts. Many transgender people are victims of sexual assault and resort to working as wedding dancers or begging to make a living.

However, in 2009, Pakistan allowed transgender people to legally change their gender, and in 2018, the Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Act was passed–recognizing transgender people as equal citizens and protecting them from discrimination.

A 2017 census counted 10,418 transgender people out of 207 million in the country, but rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least 500,000.

As Pakistan’s first trans lawyer, Rao has contested 50 cases and is working with a non-governmental organisation fighting for transgender rights.

“Rao used to beg here along with us, today she is better than many. But she still helps us, she even responds at midnight (if we contact her),” said Nayab, a transgender beggar.

While Rao enjoys and takes pride in her work as a lawyer, she has aspirations of one day becoming Pakistan’s first transgender judge.

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