Universities in both India and Pakistan have begun offering a free college education to transgender students.
In April, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University (MSU) in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu waived tuition for transgender students at all ten of its campuses. Last week, Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) in Islamabad, Pakistan, followed suit.
Trans students admitted to either university can pursue their degree for free, all the way up through the doctoral level.
“If we can create a favorable condition for acquiring better educational qualifications, it will enable [transgender people] to occupy enviable positions in government or private institutions,” MSU vice-chancellor K. Baskar told The Hindu Times.
Trans activists in Pakistan applauded the decision.
“This is a positive, welcome and much-needed step by the AIOU,” Uzma Yaqoob, founder of the The Forum for Dignity Initiatives, told Arab News. “The transgender community has a great desire to acquire and complete their education. I’m sure they’ll make use of this offer.”
While trans women, known as hijras, have been a part of Indian culture for centuries, they have faced harassment and persecution in more recent generations: Both countries report high rates of rejection, poverty, and anti-trans violence and murder.
There have been concerted efforts to improve conditions, though: Trans people in both India and Pakistan can choose a third gender on their passports and government IDs. In India, federal laws provide comprehensive anti-discrimination protections and similar legislation was introduced in Pakistan, which just began counting trans people in the official census this year.
Tamil Nadu, in particular, has a broad welfare policy: Transgender people can access free housing and free gender confirmation surgery in government hospitals. It was also the first state to form a Transgender Welfare Board with representatives from the trans community.