Pakistan has opened its first government-funded school for transgender women, who are often bullied out of mainstream education as children in the deeply conservative nation.
The country’s Khawaja Sira community date back hundreds of years and are treated as a third sex in South Asia.
Many are ostracised by their families and shunned by society, earning a living through dancing, begging or sex work.
Murad Raas, education minister for Punjab province where the school is based, vowed to provide “education for everyone” as he announced the opening of the school this week in the central city of Multan.
Staffed by transgender teachers, the school will provide afternoon classes and vocational training.
A student at the school named Baby Doll, in her 20s, said the behaviour of teachers and other staff at institutions she had previously attended was upsetting.
“Boys used to tease us and misbehave with us,” she added.
“We are trying to restore the disconnect with education (that transgender people experience),” said Hina Chaudhary, a senior official from the Punjab education department, which plans to open further such schools.
There is a vocal activist community in Pakistan fighting for transgender rights, and earlier this year the first transgender-only madrasa, or Islamic religious school, opened in the capital Islamabad.
However, the community continues to face abuse and stigma.
They have traditionally been called upon to perform rituals such as blessing newborns or to bring life to weddings and parties.
“People see us as a means of entertainment when we go out,” said student Hania Henny.
“But staff are extremely polite in the school. The difference between life at school and outside is that we feel relaxed here.”