When members of Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously to pass the wide-ranging Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act
in 2018, it was hailed as a landmark law protecting the transgender community, known as the Khwaja Sira in South Asian circles. The law guarantees fundamental rights for the Khwaja Sira who have long battled rampant discrimination
, sexual abuse, and violence. It accords them the right to self-identify as male, female, or a blend of both genders, and to have that identity registered on all official documents — a right considered a big win by trans rights activists.
However, the reality on the ground shows that much more needs to be done to protect transgenders in the South Asian country. Last year alone, 20 transgender people
were killed in Pakistan, according to data provided by the International Commission of Jurists, Sathi Foundation, and HOPE. They are often attacked
on social media, yet such abuse is rarely reported to the police.
Trans rights activists are now concerned that a recent debate on the four-year-old law threatens to undo what little progress has been achieved to protect their community. Hardline Pakistani politicians such as Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said that the law is against Islam and the constitution and will pave the way for homosexuality and same-sex marriage, reports Inter Press Service
(IPS). One senator
proposed amendments — including the government establishing a board of medical experts to examine and recommend the gender of a transgender person — to make the law more Islamic.
The trans community vehemently opposes this proposal and the invasive procedure that would violate their privacy and international human rights laws. “We will never allow anyone to examine us,” Bindya Rana, a Karachi-based transgender activist and founder and president of Gender Interactive Alliance
, told IPS. “We know, who we are, just like the men and women in this country know who they are!”
The false narrative that the Transgender Right Act undermines religion is dangerous and must be opposed, explains Ifra Javed, a researcher and lecturer at the Lahore School of Economics, in her analysis
. Javed notes that this year, four transgenders were murdered in the span of two weeks in Senator Ahmed’s constituency, yet he has not condemned the attacks.
She writes, “These numbers are staggering, and if the last few weeks have been any indication, they are likely to grow unless substantial steps are taken to safeguard trans rights against false narratives. The landmark Transgender Act is an essential development toward changing this reality.”