KARACHI: Representatives of the Pakistani transgender community addressed an important press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Friday to demand the protection of their hard-fought rights and address recent criticism and allegations regarding the spirit and intent of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018.

“The law provides a third option, ‘X’, in the gender column for the Nadra CNIC for transgenders. However, it does not give licence for same-sex marriage,” argued Shahzadi Rao, a senior member of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), addressing the most prominent criticism in the ongoing controversy over the law.

“A religious party now has an issue with it and is twisting it into something else. They want us examined by a doctor to determine our gender. We know who we are: we don’t need a doctor to tell us that,” she said, describing the proposal to issue CNICs to transgender persons only after medical examination as a breach of their privacy.

“If you want us to get ourselves medically checked before we can get our CNIC, then you should also ask the same of every other individual, male or female,” she said.

Representative body says law doesn’t allow same-sex marriage

GIA Director Bindiya Rana said that it seemed like the politicians picking issues with the Act were after the transgender community, not the law itself.

“They have taken a word from here, a phrase from there, and made something else out of it. Why don’t they ever scrutinise the words of the people in government, of the judges and other important people [like this]? Why don’t they do something about the TikTokers who are making fun of our community? Why doesn’t anyone see this as fake propaganda against the transgender community?

“No one talks about education for us, about having a job quota for us; about seats in the Assembly or the Senate for us, but they raise fingers at us instead,” she said.

“We are Muslims too. We don’t want anything that goes against our religion. We are only demanding our rights.

“Please study the law before making something out of it that it is not. And then, if you find something that does not sound right to you, we will be open to discussing it,” Rana said.

Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, said transgender people should be considered human beings before anything else.

“We need to address their concerns. Why are they begging on the streets? Why don’t we have rehabilitation centres for them? Why are we not educating them? Why are we not giving them skills so that they can earn a decent living? We see many poor transgenders living together in small spaces in terrible conditions. Why isn’t our society giving them space?” she asked.

Anis Haroon, regional head for the National Commission for Human Rights, who was also representing the Women Action Forum, referenced the Constitution to demand equal rights for transgender persons.

“First, the Islamist parties tried to push women behind chaadar and char diwari. The women fought back and came out [anyway], and now they bring their own women to stand with them. They are after transgenders now; when they also fight back and come out stronger, these parties will bring transgenders [to back them],” she said.

Ms Haroon also took aim at some of the harshest critics of the law. “Don’t they see how they are making a vulnerable community feel even more vulnerable? Don’t they know that homosexuality is more prevalent in their madrassahs and seminaries?” she asked.

Bebo Haider, president of Subrang, said that had the society not sidelined the transgender community and left them uneducated and without health facilities, etc., they would not have needed the Transgender Persons Protection Act.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2022

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