Pakistani parliament passes bill for transgender rights

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Friday, May 11, 2018

On Tuesday, Pakistan's parliament passed a bill at Islamabad's National Assembly which granted transgender people various civil rights. The bill, "Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act", which was presented by Pakistan Peoples Party's lawmaker Naveed Qamar, was approved by the senate in March, and now awaits signature of the president Mamnoon Hussain.

The bill ensures people have the right to identify themselves as male, female or as "third gender", also known as khawaja sira in Pakistan. This identity choice is to be reflected in the National Database and Registration Authority, as well as other official documents like passports and driving licence.

Per the bill, transgender people can now cast votes, run for election, have the right to assemble, and can obtain loans for business startups. They are also eligible to inherit property per their identified gender. Transgender people are to be no longer discriminated at school, working place, for medical services, public transportation facilities, by their employers, or at private business. Separate confinement areas, jails and prisons are to be established for transgenders. Anyone found guilty of forcing transgenders to beg is to face a six-month prison term as well as 50 thousand rupees fine.

The legislation was sent to and later approved by the Council of Islamic Ideology, a government advisory body. Lahore-based activist Mehlab Jameel, who was involved in writing the bill, said the Council of Islamic Ideology "appreciated that the bill included directions on inheritance in accordance with Shari'a" law.

Last year, transgenders were included for the census count for the first time. Mehlab Jameel said, "the definition of 'transgender' [...] was basically based on genitals" in the initial draft of the bill, written last year.

Speaking to National Public Radio, Jameel said, "This kind of development is not only unprecedented in Pakistani history, but it's one of the most progressive laws in the whole world." Human Rights Watch has reported at least four deaths of transgenders in the country since the beginning of 2018, and at least 57 transgenders were killed in Pakistan since 2015. Pakistan's —reportedly— first transgender news anchor and activist Marvia Malik told Images the transgenders "are forced to dance and beg because they have no other means to make ends meet." "My trans friends who have masters degrees don't have jobs which is why they end up on streets or become sex workers", Malik added.

The draft for the policy to implement this bill is not yet prepared. From the date the bill was approved, President Hussain has ten days to sign the bill or reject it.


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