Nayyab Ali

Picture of Giraffe Nayyab Ali

Nayyab Ali was disowned by her Pakistani parents for being transgender when she was only 13 years old. Four years later she began working for transgender rights. Today, she is a leading voice on that issue and many more, including human rights for women and children.

The holder of a Master’s degree in International Relations, Ali became a teacher and then a consultant in transgender rights. She founded Khawaja Sira, which offers literacy programs, vocational training, life skills education, and driving classes for transgenders. She is also the Chairperson of the All Pakistan Transgender Election Network.

The Khawaja Sira school is a prime example of the good that Ali does for her community. Transgenders use it as not only a place to educate themselves but also a place to protect themselves—a location that’s safe. In just one month of 2022, five transgender women were murdered; many other crimes go unreported because transgenders don’t always trust the police. Ali knows this only too well. As head of the Transgender Protection Unit of the Islamabad Police, she notes:

“The problem with law enforcement in our country is that officers are typically less interested in dealing with the incident they have been summoned for and more interested in treating trans individuals as objects of curiosity.”

In 2016, she herself was attacked with acid at a music festival; she spent three months in bed, barely able to talk or eat. In 2020, two men entered Ali’s home and beat her mercilessly. They took her identity card, bank cards, jewelry, phone, and laptop. They also threatened to kill her if she continued her activism.

Recently, one of her colleagues in the police department pulled a gun on her; he is now in jail. Ali has been pressured to drop charges against the officer, but she’s not likely to do so. “If we cow down to these threats and these acts of violence,” she says, “we will only allow people to oppress us even further.”

On paper at least, Pakistan is one of the few Asian countries that allow transgenders to self-identify and to have their identity recognized on official documents: The Transgender Persons Act prohibits discrimination against transgenders. However, Ali points out that the law is seldom followed:

“We are only progressive on paper. In the 2018 Act, transgender rights are laid down pretty clearly, but the law does not stipulate penalties for those who break it. When you don’t penalize these infractions or set a punishment, in our legal system, it does not qualify as a crime.”

Ali’s goals remain clear and consistent: to work for the welfare of the transgender community; to provide education and health services; to advocate for the rights of not only transgenders but also women, youth, and the disabled; to encourage people to vote; and to push for appropriate legislation and implementation of that legislation.

Nayyab Ali's work is dangerous, tiring, and often depressing. But she encourages others to follow in her path saying: “First, complete your education. After uniting the community, be an activist.”

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