Mehreen Syed's vocational training centre is helping trans people become hair and makeup artists

Mehreen Syed's vocational training centre is helping trans people become hair and makeup artists

We need to stop using the word khusra as an insult, the model says as she speaks about respect and recognition of trans people.
19 Jun, 2021

“When will we stop using the word ‘khusra’ as an insult?” asks model Mehreen Syed. “It’s just the Urdu word for transgender and when we use it so carelessly, as a curse or a joke, we are putting down an entire gender. About 99% of the people around us don’t even realise that they are doing this. It’s just such an ordinary part of our everyday conversation.”

Having recently worked with the transgender community, Syed has observed their struggles firsthand. Twelve years ago, she set in motion the International Fashion Academy Pakistan (IFAP), a vocational training centre that aims to empower individuals struggling to find financial empowerment and works in conjunction with ICARE, an NGO focused on helping the underprivileged.

According to Syed, to date the institute has jumpstarted the careers of 5,026 trainees, making them proficient in hair and makeup skills and grooming them so that they get hired at salons, offices or as beauty advisors that help market beauty products.

These trainees have included members of the transgender community in the past but this time, in collaboration with the Punjab Skills Development Fund (PSDF) and Akhuwat, IFAP has sought to specifically train 35 trans people. In her capacity as an ambassador of the transgender community designated by the PSDF, Syed and her team visited Lahore’s transgender communities and gathered a group of people interested in learning hair and makeup skills.

“We have trained them but just as significantly, we have worked on building their self-confidence,” explains Syed. “They have a very strong sense for aesthetics and I feel that they work with greater focus than their female counterparts.”

Why so? “I think that all their lives, they have to work very hard to prove their worth. People are unwilling to hire them. There is no waiting area in public places designated for them and random men feel that there is nothing wrong in fondling them.

"Many are turned out of their homes at a young age and are adopted by the transgender community. Eventually, most have to resort to becoming dancers, beggars or even worse, prostitutes. When a woman gets raped she can at least gather support and try to get justice. When did anyone ever stand up for the rights of transgender people who get raped? No one bothers even though this community very frequently suffers harassment,” she says.

“I have listened to their stories while training them and they truly shook my soul.”

Under the aegis of IFAP, the group was encouraged to be proud of their identity. “We have guided them on how to deal with people as well as how to earn,” outlines Syed. “I am so happy that the majority of trainees have now gotten jobs.”

Most of the trainees are now working at salons and spas while one has been hired by a school. But training a handful of trans people hardly changes society’s careless treatment of the entire community.

Syed asserts, “For the longest time, there wasn’t even a gender category recognising them on our CNICs and they had to declare themselves as either ‘male’ or ‘female’. This has changed thankfully, but so much more needs to change."

She believes that more than anything, society needs to acknowledge their identity. "This community wants to be recognised and respected. Till when can we refuse to give this basic human right to them?”

And for how long can children be allowed to tease each other by using the word ‘khusra’? Or women describe a bad makeup job by alluding it to the transgender community? No one really pauses to think of what a transgender person must go through, sitting in a crowd where their gender is being reduced to a joke. Raped, murdered, abused and ridiculed — financial empowerment of the transgender community is a step in the right direction but it is merely a step.


Pakistan Lover Jun 19, 2021 06:10pm
Good job
Chrís Dăn Jun 19, 2021 07:38pm
What a humane initiative.Bravo.
Hamed Jun 19, 2021 08:21pm
These people try to solve the problem, instead of only talking. My respect for these people who have recognized the solution.
VIq saad Jun 19, 2021 08:34pm
We are proud of you Mehreen This step is a huge leap towards accepting humans in society. Transgenders have been abused since their birth. I hope this trend continues through out the country.
Say no to political correctness Jun 19, 2021 08:40pm
She married into big money few years ago. It's good to see her doing a lot of charity work, instead of just sitting around, enjoying wealth and doing nothing.
Naeem Husain Jun 19, 2021 09:03pm
Excellent display of humanity! Keep up the good work!
imdadali Jun 19, 2021 10:00pm
i appreciate the step taken by mehreen syed to trained the transgender, this step will definitely make the trans community more stable. more so, this profession will clear the hurdles and they may be able to occupy space in the society.
Rao Amjad Ali Jun 20, 2021 12:24am
Ms. Syed is a hero!
Ali da Malanga Jun 20, 2021 05:40am
Kudos to Mehreen Syed for this incredible and inspiring initiative.
Glen D'Abreo Jun 22, 2021 04:57am
It is indeed interesting that males in the media business are not noted into doing anything for the trans community. It might be best that the trans community get the educational credits to work in different sectors of business and in turn businesses be required to have a percentage of job openings be reserved for them. Pakistan can be the star of the region to being sincere & acceptance of transgenders!