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Study Unveils Stigmas Facing Khwaja Sira (Third-Gender) Community in Swat, Pakistan


The khwaja sira community in Pakistan, identified as third-gender people, has long faced severe social marginalization. A new study co-authored by Fordham GSS Assistant Professor Sameena Azhar, Ph.D., Maria Mercedes Guzman Herrera, GSS ’23, and Riya Lerner, GSS ’24, examines this community’s lived experiences in the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the stigma and discrimination they endure.

The study, titled “‘I would prefer to be dead than to live this way’: Lived experiences of stigma and discrimination against khwaja sira in Swat, Pakistan,” was published in Global Mental Health.

Bridging the Research Gap

Unfortunately, previous research has often overlooked the unique struggles of khwaja sira in this region. Azhar et al conducted 45 in-depth interviews with khwaja sira members in Mingora, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwain. This research highlights their encounters with gender-nonconformity stigma across various social settings, from familial complications to challenges in health care access and educational and work environments.

Dimensions of Stigma

Using Minority Stress Theory and thematic content analysis, the study categorizes stigma into three distinct dimensions:

Internalized Stigma: Feelings of shame and embarrassment deeply affect khwaja sira, impacting their mental health and self-worth.

Perceived Stigma: Societal opinions often cast khwaja sira as unemployable or involved in sex work, perpetuating negative stereotypes and limiting opportunities.

Enacted Stigma: Tangible exclusion occurs in multiple spheres, including family life, educational institutions, religious spaces, and healthcare settings.

Implications for Social Interventions

Azhar’s findings underscore the urgent need for targeted social interventions and community practices to support the khwaja sira community. By addressing the identified stigmas, stakeholders can better advocate for inclusive policies and practices that respect and uplift this marginalized group.


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