In a moral panic
Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission is the country’s conscience. When a violation of human rights happens, the HRCP moves quickly. Every year, it puts out a report about the state of human rights in Pakistan that tells both the government and the people where they are failing. This is what it has done for 35 years.
The following paragraph from the HRCP report for 2022, which came out recently, should be alarming: “During the year, the HRCP was especially worried about the threat to take away transgender rights. The Progressive Federal Act of 2018, which was the result of a year-long consultation process, was made too controversial in and out of the courts and government.
Because of the way self-appointed religious opinion leaders made people feel, 19 transgender people were killed and hundreds were hurt. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, which would have let Nadra register transgender people, has been put on hold because of disagreements.
Amnesty International and more reasonable people in the country praised this law as the most progressive law in the country. Pakistan is one of the countries that has acknowledged that transgender people have their own identities. What we are seeing right now is a reaction.
The Transgender Act should be made stronger, not worse.
I called Bindiya Rana, who was the first person in Pakistan to start a program for transgender people. She started the Gender Interactive Alliance in 2002 to fight for a long time to get her people together and then to convince the government that transgender people are also God’s creations and should have the same rights as everyone else. In fact, they need help to deal with the fact that they don’t know what gender they are. Bindiya sounded angry, but she stayed surprisingly calm and was ready to talk to those who disagreed with the law from 2018.
She said sarcastically, “It took them four years to figure out that there was something wrong with the law.” “And you know how religion can bring people together in our society,” she continued.
It could be said that the law from 2018 was a well-thought-out piece of legislation. The Council of Islamic Ideology agreed with it so that transpeople could keep their honor. Some people seem to have changed their minds about this now. The problems that have been brought up are vague and don’t show any respect for the humanity of transgender people. As replacements to the ‘objectionable’ Act, three or four bills have been put forward. Nearly 14 requests have been sent to the Federal Shariat Court, but the court has neither turned them down nor agreed with them.
People are most upset about transgender people’s right to choose how they see their own sexuality. Critics aren’t afraid to say that all transgender people should have a medical test by a screening board to find out what gender they are. However, the Act accepts that a person’s self-perceived expression of gender identity is enough.
One might wonder if the same goes for people who have only two genders. Since the words “sex” and “transgender” are taboo, most of the discussion has been about things that don’t matter. I wonder if our version of morals really supports such prudery when sexual abuse and rape seem to be fine.
The fact is that the Act needs to be changed to stop transgender people from being left out of society. If transgender people are to get justice, some changes need to be made to the law to fix the problems with the property law. Another thing that should be added to the Act is that parents should be punished if they leave a transgender child behind before he or she is 18 years old.
It’s just as important that all of the Act’s protections for transgender people’s rights are actually put into place. Transgender people don’t have their own rooms or cells in most hospitals or prisons. As the law says, no places have been set up for them to stay in. They are treated unfairly in school, health care, public places, and when they are hired. They are the most ignored people in Pakistan, and they are the most likely to be sexually abused or treated badly.
The good news is that more and more transpeople are getting educations and fighting for their rights, which gives them more power. They have gone into all kinds of jobs and won respect in many parts of society. A transgender woman named Mehtab Jameel, who is a lawyer, wrote the part of the HRCP report about transgender rights. It is without a question a great piece of writing.
Strangely, the people who say they protect religion feel so threatened by the Transgender Act that they say it will “undermine the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and cause moral panic.”