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Pakistani university offers free education for transgender community

Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU)
ISLAMABAD: A leading university in Pakistan is offering free education for the transgender community, in a bid to promote inclusion and opportunity for the marginalized group.
“Our university education system is based on distance learning, so they can get the education without coming to classrooms, and avoid possible taboos attached to them,” Dr. Shahid Siddiqui, vice chancellor of the Islamabad-based Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), told Arab News.
Through this free education program, the AIOU will try to “return their self-respect and dignity.”
The Forum for Dignity Initiatives (FDI), a Pakistani NGO working for the rights of gender and sexual minorities, lauded the decision.
“This is a positive, welcome and much-needed step by the AIOU,” Uzma Yaqoob, founder and executive director of FDI, told Arab News, adding that the transgender community was never given such an opportunity before in Pakistan.
“The transgender community has a great desire to acquire and complete their education. I’m sure they’ll make use of this offer.”
In June, for the first time, Pakistani authorities granted third-gender passports after legally recognizing transgender people in 2009.
The transgender community has been registered with a separate identity for the first time in the country’s 2017 population census.
According to preliminary census data released by the government, there are 10,418 people in Pakistan. But some advocacy groups say the actual figure is half a million or more.
Since being legally recognized in 2009, transgender people have the right to possess identity cards and to vote. But despite this, the community continues to face challenges and even attacks by extremists.