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ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee on Friday approved proposed amendments to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017, giving them the right to be recognised as they perceive themselves.

“This means under the proposed law they would not need to appear before a medical board to decide their gender,” said Chairperson of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights Senator Nasreen Jalil.

“The transgender community is opposed to the idea of setting up a medical board that should determine their gender fearing that they might be subjected to embarrassment and harassment. The bill provides protection to the members of transgender community and prohibits attack on their self-esteem and mistreatment,” said the MQM senator.The committee met to consider the draft bill moved by Senators Rubina Khalid and Dr Karim Khwaja.

In the past meetings, some members had suggested that a medical board should be established to determine gender.

The matter was referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) which discussed it with members of the civil society, transgender community, lawyers and religious figures to reach a conclusion. Chairman CII Dr Qibla Ayaz emphasised before the committee that there was no need for a medical board to determine the sexual identity of the transgender persons and that the word of a transgender should be accepted for it.

“In case there is a dispute such as in the case of inheritance, court may decide on the sexual identity of a transgender, if needed,” said Mr Ayaz.

JUI Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar believed that a medical board should be established but reluctantly accepted the verdict of the CII.

To pacify Mr Sattar, the chairperson said a transgender may look like a man but feels and considers herself a woman. “Therefore, every transgender should be allowed to determine their identity as he or she perceives himself or herself,” she said.

The chairperson was forced to defer discussion on proposed amendments regarding procedural changes to check the misuse of blasphemy law after Mr Sattar got up to walk out if the committee ‘touched’ the blasphemy law.

He warned that changes to the blasphemy law were unacceptable and that death penalty for blaspheming would stay.

The chairperson tried to explain that the committee did not seek amendments to the blasphemy law but check its misuse.

She argued that 80pc of individuals in jails under the blasphemy law were wrongly accused.

“The committee wants to propose that anyone who misuses the blasphemy law should also face the same charges under the law as the guilty person,” said Ms Jalil.

Mr Sattar refused to listen cautioning the committee to keep its hands off the blasphemy law.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2018