FOR most election hopefuls, the absence of more than two gender categories in the ECP’s nomination papers would hardly invite notice, let alone criticism. But for trans Pakistanis — 13 of whom recently announced their intention of running in the 2018 general election — it is painfully indicative of a system that has long neglected them. While the ECP has attempted to rectify its mistake by asking the prospective candidates to write the letter ‘C’ to identify their non-binary gender, one might ask why such a lapse occurred in the first place. Pursuant to a series of Supreme Court rulings since 2009, and a recent federal law protecting transgender rights, the ECP is legally obligated to safeguard their fair and equal participation in the upcoming elections. Yet, it appears to have overlooked these, and the Peshawar High Court’s instructions in February, to ensure their electoral inclusion, even in so much as a simple form.
What might appear to the majority as a slight oversight can lead to serious repercussions for a minority community. The PBS’s negligence during the 2017 enumeration (again, despite the higher judiciary’s interventions) resulted in a figure of only 10,418 trans people — a severe undercount according to many activists. Nadra’s inability to proactively register trans citizens (less than 2,000 since 2012) has resulted in equally depressed electoral roll representation — only 1,456 registered trans voters. With no guarantee that barriers to inclusion, such as a lack of separate polling booths and adequately sensitised poll officials, is being addressed, the trans community is right to raise alarm over potential exclusion of even these few. It is not mere speculative hyperbole to warn of the dividends of such casual neglect; the All Pakistan Transgender Election Network has claimed that at least two trans people were unable to submit their nominations after facing assault and harassment. Thus, the failure of public bodies to affirmatively ensure trans rights amounts to tacit participation in their near total erasure from public life.
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2018