In what should have been done years ago, the parliament has passed a law that will safeguard the rights of the transgender community in Pakistan.
The new law bars discrimination against hiring transgender employees and also guarantees basic human rights for them. Called “Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act”, the legislation was passed on Tuesday in Islamabad.
With this, all citizens will have the right to identify as male, female, a mix of both genders or neither, on national identity cards, drivers license, passport and education certificates/degrees. It defines gender identity as “a person’s innermost and individual sense of self as male, female or a blend of both, or neither; that can correspond or not to the sex assigned at birth”.
2017’s census pegs the number of transgender citizens as 10,418, which has been widely disputed by the community. According to the advocacy group Trans Action, Pakistan is home to an estimated 500,000 transgender persons.
Mehlab Jameel, one of the foremost activists and lawyers instrumental in drafting the law says,
I believe that it will make a positive impact on the ground. Laws can only go so far with a community that is so marginalised, especially economically, that they often don’t know what their own rights are.
She says that most of the people in the transgender community never report harassment, sexual violence or rape as they are often afraid of being blamed by the police. “So, this law allows us to do further advocacy work to amend other problematic laws and policies,” added Mehlab.
Aside from outlawing discrimination against transgender citizens by any business or service provider, it also gives them a right to inheritance, lets them have access to public places, run for a government post, and to the assembly.
Activists from the community say that this is a major step forward for the protection of their rights in Pakistan. Implementation, on the other hand, is a whole other can of worms.