On March 23, TV viewers in Pakistan saw something they had never seen before —a transgender anchor presenting the news in prime time.
Despite this giant leap, Marvia Malik, the first and only transgender news anchor in the country, said the difficulties faced by people like her in Pakistan are far from over.
"I am a journalism degree holder, but I faced the same difficulties [as] the transgender people who simply beg or dance in the streets," Malik told VOA in a phone interview.
In a country such as Pakistan, it is common to mock transgender people, who are expected to earn their livelihood mainly by dancing, begging or working in the sex trade.
The most daunting task for them is getting a respectable job. But Malik said if more entrepreneurs and businesses showed more courage in breaking the social taboos as her employer, "Kohenoor News," things can change.
"Like other trans people, I did not get any support from my family.On my own, I did some menial jobs and continued my studies. I had always wanted to be a news anchor, and my dream came true when I got selected," she said.
Junaid Ansari, owner of the TV station, told VOA that Malik was not selected because the station wanted to make a point about breaking taboos. Ansari said he instructed his team to make the selection on the basis of merit and not gender.
"We had asked aspiring news presenters to come for the auditions. I got a call from one of my team members who said that one of the applicants was a transgender," Ansari said.
There was some pushback from his team, but Ansari stuck to his decision.
"They are human beings, too, and they should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I purely made the decision on the basis of treating all humans equally.The thought of challenging the social norms or breaking taboos did not even come to my mind," Ansari said.
Ansari said feedback regarding Malik's hiring has been mostly positive, though the station has received some negative feedback.
In Pakistan's Twittersphere and other social media platforms, people are praising Malik's selection, calling it a step in the right direction.
Earlier this month, Pakistan's Senate approved a bill for the protection of transgender rights. The bill asked the government to ensure employment opportunities and easy installment loans for transgender people.
According to the 2017 census, there are over 10,000 transgender people in Pakistan, a number some people say is much higher.
In the meantime, Malik is enjoying her instant fame.
"There is a lot of difference between the pre- and post-March 23 Marvia. It had to happen.The change had to come," she said.