Pakistan's transgender community faced pushback at the country's general election on Wednesday as five transgender candidates failed to win office and transgender observers and voters were blocked from polling stations, campaigners said.
The transgender community had hoped the July 25 ballot would be a step towards greater acceptance after 13 transgender candidates filed papers to run in the election and the Election Commission hired transgender observers for the first time.
While Pakistan is deeply conservative and homosexuality is illegal, the country has approved laws giving transgender people better rights than in many other nations including issuing its first passport with a transgender category last year.
However transgender turnout remained low at Wednesday's poll and observers faced difficult work environments which the All Pakistan Transgender Election Network blamed on the Election Commission's "failure to understand the unique obstacles".
The Election Commission of Pakistan did not respond to a request for comment.
Transgender observer Farzana Riaz said she and about 25 other colleagues hired to make sure polling station staff treated disabled and women voters with care were not allowed inside polling stations despite having official identification.
"We, as observers, were given identity cards by the election commission, but we were still not allowed inside," Riaz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Riaz said no transgender people were allowed to vote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - one of Pakistan's four provinces where there was a spate of transgender attacks in 2016 - because their identity cards did not match the gender they presented as.
The transgender community was counted in the national census for the first time last year, recording 10,418 in a population of about 207 million although many said this was too low. Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least half a million transgender people in the country.