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Transgender voting rights

February 17, 2018

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IT seems that in an increasingly intolerant Pakistan, not even legal protections are enough to safeguard the rights of the transgender community. When it comes to matters of inheritance, employment and election registration, this community is among the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised. But even as its members grapple with sexual abuse and intimidation, there are some advocates among them — such as Farzana Jan — who have been campaigning relentlessly for their rights. This week, Ms Jan who leads the TransAction Alliance — a network of KP transgender activists — was party to a joint petition in the Peshawar High Court requesting that the ECP ensure electoral participation for transgender people. Pointing out anomalies in the poll nomination forms, the petitioners want the inclusion of a column for transgender and intersex persons desiring to contest elections. Current ECP rules do not define whether transgender persons can cast their votes in male or female booths — their gender is mentioned as ‘X’ on CNICs. If unable to give access to female or male polling booths, the ECP should work out specific polling arrangements for transgender voters. Disenfranchising an already marginalised community is unacceptable. It is only when polling officers are trained in inclusive electioneering that gender discrimination will end. While the census found the transgender population at 100,000, only 1,500 persons are registered voters. The logical next step is to issue CNICs to transgender people followed by voter registration.

Despite a series of watertight legal protections — including the recent amendment to a 2017 transgender protection bill stating a medical test is not required to identify one’s gender — the community’s reality calls for urgent action. Consider the surge of attacks on transgender women in recent years, and the police’s failure to respond. The impoverished state of transgenders serves as an indictment of the state’s shameful disinterest when it comes to preserving the basic rights of such vulnerable groups with bare recourse to opportunity and justice.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2018