Historic Transgender Rights Bill Passes in Pakistan

(AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Transgender Universe

By Mila Madison

Members of Pakistan’s parliament voted to pass the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in Islamabad on Tuesday.

The new law grants citizens the right to identify as and also express their gender as male, female, a blend of both, or neither. The law also gives its citizens the right to have their identity registered on all official government documents including driver’s licenses, National Identification cards, passports, and education certificates.

Transgender citizens of Pakistan are now protected from discrimination by employers, health care providers, educational institutions, transportation service providers, and private businesses.

The new law also guarantees transgender citizens their right to inheritance, to vote, and to run for public office. It grants transgender people the right to access public spaces and it calls for the creation of government-run protection centers for transgender people who are considered at risk.

Transgender activists in Pakistan are celebrating the passing of the new law and consider it a huge step forward.

“I thought that this would never be achieved in my lifetime, but I am fortunate to have seen my own parliament pass this bill," transgender activist Bindiya Rana told Al Jazeera. "In fighting for this bill, we were not fighting for those transgender people who have already lived 40 or 50 years," she also added. "We have been fighting for the next generation of transgender Pakistanis."

The passage of the bill was a little too late for some in Pakistan however. 57 transgender people have been killed in the country over the last three years. On May 4th, Muni, a transgender woman, was murdered in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She was shot after she was unable to produce change for a man while she was performing as a dancer at a wedding.

Mehlab Jameel, who was one of several rights activists and lawyers who were involved in drafting the legislation, says there are still concerns regarding the new law. "I believe that it will make a positive impact on the ground," said Jameel. "Laws can only go so far with a community that is so marginalized, especially economically, that they often don't know what their own rights are." Jameel also believes the new law provides a basis for activists to amend other sections of Pakistan’s criminal and penal codes, which he says are problematic. "The majority of people in the community never want to report sexual violence, rape or harassment, because they are worried that they could be blamed by the police,” Jameel added. "So, this law allows us to do further advocacy work to amend other problematic laws and policies."

When it comes to civil rights for transgender people, Pakistan is way ahead of the United States, who does not have a national law protecting its transgender citizens. In the last few months, Pakistan has seen its first transgender news anchor, first transgender school and its first transgender retirement home. Though gender identity is now protected in Pakistan, the country still does not provide discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.