By Ayesha Noor Fatima
The decision undertaken by the Punjab Ministry of Education for establishing middle schools for intersex children in four districts of Rawalpindi 1 is certainly a worthwhile and commendable initiative, however, there is a caveat; it may not appertain so closely to the overarching agenda of their mainstreaming within the social fabric of our society.
Historically, in South Asia, during the Mughal era, the intersex community–popularly referred to as Khwajasaras enjoyed a privileged status as confidants of the royal court. It was only during the British raj they were subjected to discrimination being placed in the category of criminal tribes under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 2. Ever since the negative narrative built around this community has led to its social exclusion in South Asia. While in Pakistan, legislative and administrative developments are underway for protecting their rights; mainstreaming the third gender in our social context, however, still remains a challenge. The recent decision undertaken by the Punjab Ministry of Education for establishing separate tuition-free middle schools for intersex children in four districts of Rawalpindi with free textbooks, uniforms, and school bags is salient in this regard. While the initiative is commendable in ensuring the right of intersex children to education, it overlooks the social consequences of isolated schooling on intersex children’s psychosocial well-being. Studies allude to the fact that segregated or single-sex schooling poses an impediment among children in forming mixed-gender associations 3. As a consequence, such children demonstrate poor social skills in mixed-gender interactions. Considering the fact that mixed gender encounters are inevitable in real-world social settings; the intersex children with isolated schooling experiences
would remain secluded from the other children and their lack of social acceptance would remain an unresolved issue. Mixed-gender schooling would however provide intersex children an opportunity to coexist with children of another gender through careful sensitization programs. Children with young minds are flexible and accommodating and through mentoring and sensitization programs there are better chances of their acceptance of intersex children thereby leading to their inclusivity in schools and eventually in society and working spaces. Children must be provided a learning environment where they are conditioned and sensitized to coexist with each other. Mixed-gender schooling that is inclusive of intersex children is a viable approach for ending the misery of exclusion of the third gender from our society.
The writer is a student at NUST Islamabad and a freelance columnist.