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Transgender Persons Act 2018

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Transgender Persons Act 2018

Controversy & political agenda setting

Hailed as among the more progressive laws on transgender rights globally by the International Commission of Jurists, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which granted transgender people in Pakistan the right to identify themselves as male, female or a blend of both genders, and to have their identity registered on all official documents, including passports, national identification cards, driving licenses and educational certificates, is a subject of much debate in recent days. Opponents of the law claim the provision to choose or change one’s gender is un-Islamic and could open the door to same-sex marriages, which are currently prohibited in Pakistan. On the other hand, supporters of this law assert that the law is one step towards bringing them [transgender people] at par with male and female citizens of the country. They further assert that this legislation is a revolutionary step towards providing inheritance rights to transgender citizens, and to provide them with discrimination-free health care treatment, access to education and jobs. In the instant article, the author has discussed various aspects of the law and the controversies related to it.
Being shunned and annihilated from the social lexicons, thousands of transgender individuals in Pakistan are forced to beg prostitute and dance to survive. They were, perhaps, the children of a lesser god as they were denied even their fundamental rights. Then, in 2018, Pakistan made the most progressive move in its legislative history when the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, was passed. This historic piece of legislation aimed to protect this oft- neglected segment of the society by integrating them into the mainstream through inclusive mechanisms like protecting their identity, securing their enrolment in education institutions, and facilitating them with health and employment rights. However, after four years of approval from both houses of Pakistan’s parliament, this piece of legislation is in the limelight due to, perhaps, all wrong reasons. The law has attracted a systematic and politically calculated mobilization against transgenderism through misinformation and propaganda and the aim seems to be to create a manifesto or political agenda of the right-wing parties in Pakistan which lost their ground after facing a defeat in the 2018 elections. Sensing an opportunity to gain back their lost ground and political space to successfully devise an agenda to get electoral validation in urban and rural franchises, these parties have hopped on it. Getting the Transgender Act null and void, by mixing it with homosexual tendencies, through a narrative that can be easily spread and propagated through media seems their last resort. They have grabbed the opportunity that can expand their vote bank based on emotional appeals and religious interpretations. For instance, chief of Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, has argued that it is against the norms of Islamic Law to declare it as perverse and deviated norm from theological perspectives.
Transgender people in Pakistan have long been deprived of their fundamental rights like right to identity. The very fundamental rights to health and education were also absent. The Transgender Act provided the mechanisms by which transgender people could approach the police for their security and it also established such institutions where the government could station them if they were not protected in mainstream society.
Of late, the controversy sparked over Article 3 of the Transgender Act as its clause 1 allows transgender people to decide their personal identity on their imagination and mental choices. “A transgender person shall have a right to be recognized as per his or her self-perceived gender identity, as such, in accordance with the provisions of this Act,” reads the clause.
Clause 4 of it, which allows a transgender person already having a CNIC, has been allowed to change the name and gender according to his or her self-perceived identity. This clause is being linked to homosexuality. Rightwing political faction shaped these clauses and acts by twisting the words. They interpreted that any individual can get registered as X category to get married to the same sex person. It is objectionable that politico-religious parties restricted the scope of the Act to homosexuality which is itself a farce because, in the last three years, there is no data available from NADRA where an individual either from a male category or female category tried to get his/her identity changed. It is an irrelevant argument that the Bill was drafted to facilitate homosexual integration because there is no evidence to prove this claim.

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