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Pakistani transgender woman finds a niche in tailoring

By Reuters | April 12th 2021
Jiya, 35, a transgender woman and tailor, talks with a customer at her shop in Karachi, Pakistan April 5, 2021. [Reuters]

As a Pakistani transgender woman, Jiya measures customers at her tailoring shop in a brand new Karachi market, her eyes gleam with the prospect of a busy Ramadan season and her ambitions to expand.

Already, Jiya, 35, who goes by a single name like many transgender people in Pakistan, has broken ground by opening a public shop to make clothes for women and transgender women.

Other transgender people running tailoring businesses have tended to do so out of their homes, wary of rejection in a country with many conservative Muslims.

This is as a result of an attitude by many landlords who were reluctant to give a shop to a transgender woman, Jiya told Reuters at The Stitch Shop in the southern port city. 

She finally secured a shop in a new market, which she opened with two other transgender women in March, just in time for the start of Ramadan on Tuesday.

The Islamic holy fasting month is traditionally a busy period for tailors as people buy new clothes to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival that ends Ramadan.

For Jiya, who studied at an all-boys school and learned tailoring with the help of her fellow transgender women, opening her shop marks the start of her ambition.

“We want to expand this business. We want a boutique with Eastern and Western designs, all types of dresses,” she said.

Many of her customers are women, who said they preferred a transgender woman to make their clothes, a change from most other tailoring shops run by men.

“I felt comfortable while she took my measurements,” customer Farzana Zahid said.

Pakistan’s parliament recognised the third gender in 2018, giving such individuals fundamental rights such as the ability to vote and choose their gender on official documents.

A 2017 census recorded about 10,000 transgender people, although trans rights groups say the number could be well over 300,000 in the country of 220 million.

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