Pakistan Reader# 237, 23 October 2021
On 13 October, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari inaugurated Pakistan’s first Transgender Protection Centre in Islamabad. Apart from protection and rehabilitation of transgender persons, the centre aims to ensure legal aid, basic health facilities, psychological counselling and temporary shelter for them. Mazari emphasised that transgender persons should be on par with other citizens and should be avail services accessible to all citizens in Pakistan.
The government seems to be taking conscious efforts to address the problems of the transgender persons, as they have remained among the most marginalised group in Pakistan. A series of measures have been taken in the last few years to include them and provide various kinds of assistance.
Prior to this, in June, the social welfare scheme, Ehsaas, gave a green signal to include transgender persons in the Ehsaas Kafalat, through which they can avail financial assistance. Under this scheme, all people from the transgender community will be declared Kafalat beneficiaries and will be provided a Rs 2000 stipend every month.
Transgender persons have also found a space for themselves under the ambit of the Aurat March. In 2020, Justice Majida Rizvi said, “We march not just to highlight the struggles of women. Aurat March seeks to unite women, transgender and non-binary persons for the cause of gender justice and collective social change based on principles of inclusion, dignity and respect.” The same year, Pakistan got its first transgender lawyer Nisha Rao, who now works with an NGO to ensure transgender rights.
Transgender Persons (Protection and Rights) Act
In May 2018, the National Assembly, in a landmark move, passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017. Now the Transgender Persons (Protection and Rights) Act, 2018, it aims enabled people from the community to be recognised by their self-perceived gender identity. Similarly, it also provided for their protection and rehabilitation, prohibition of harassment and discrimination in education, health service, provided for them to hold public and private offices, and said they are eligible for inheritance according to the gender they identify with. It called for their protection from violence in their own families.
The long road ahead: Three Challenges faced by the transgender community
The above instances paint a positive picture. However, the path is not easy for transgender persons. While stories like that of Nisha Rao serve as an inspiration, they are shaped by a murky past. For example, Nisha, like many other transgender persons, ran away from home, and was forced to beg on the streets; the other option available was sex work.
First, the social stigma. Due to stigmas, transgender persons are usually outcast from their own homes, therefore forcing many to escape from homes and live in their own communities. They often fall prey to sexual assault. This is the story of thousands of transgender persons.
A 2017 census estimated that Pakistan has 10,418 transgender persons; however, this is an underreported figure. Charity Trans Action Pakistan, a rights group, says the country has at least 500,000 transgender persons, and a court census in 2019 put the figure at 300,000. However, it was only 2009 that the Supreme Court allowed transgender persons to mark themselves as a third gender on the national ID cards, six decades after independence. It took almost another decade for the Transgender Persons (Protection and Rights) Act, 2018 to come into effect.
Second, Healthcare and Educational challenges. Despite above measures, transgender persons continue to face discrimination in healthcare facilities, educational institutions and employment. The State of Human Rights in 2018 report, by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), cites a study which says that discrimination towards transgender persons is characterised by widespread ignorance and insensitivity. Similarly, in October 2021, the Lahore High Court sought responses from the Punjab government, chief secretary and IG police on a petition that transgender persons were denied jobs in the police. Such practices are prevalent in several fields of employment.
Third, Honour Killing. Another major challenge faced by transgender persons is honour killing. The HRCP says that most cases of violence against transgender persons are reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. An editorial in Dawn in 2018, says that since 2015, 52 transgender persons had been murdered in KP, of which 49 were killed by their male partners. In 2020, a 14-year-old boy killed his transgender sibling in KP; as of 2020, the number of transgender persons murdered in the province had climbed to 73.
Therefore, it is evident that the State is making efforts to address the problems by the transgender community. But the problem runs deeper; laws alone cannot change the scenario, as long as society stigmatises them, and considers them lesser humans and outcasts.
“First Transgender Protection Centre opens in Islamabad,” Dawn, 23 October 2021
Bakhtawar Mian, “Transgender persons to be included in Ehsaas Kafalat programme,” Dawn, 29 June 2021
Shazia Hasan, “‘Aurat March seeks to join people for cause of gender justice’,” Dawn, 4 March 2020
Nadir Guramani, “National Assembly passes bill seeking protection of transgender rights,” Dawn, 8 May 2018
Sadia Qasim Shah, “Like women, transgender persons too honour killing victims,” Dawn, 28 August 2018
“Transgender rights,” Dawn, 15 October 2021
“Trans rights,” The News International, 15 September 2021
“Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer goes from begging to fighting in court,” Dawn, 28 November 2020
“Moving from the margins,” Dawn, 30 November 2020
Rana Bilal, “LHC moved against transgender persons being denied jobs in Punjab police,” Dawn, 16 October 2021
“State of Human Rights in 2018,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, March 2019