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The most marginalized section of society

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It is welcome to note that transgender rights are gaining recognition in the society.  They got ID cards and voting rights in recent years and now the Chief Justice Saqib Nisar on Thursday assured the transgender community that their rights will be fully protected and doing so is among the responsibilities of the Supreme Court. This all indicates a progressive turn of the events.

Addressing a seminar on transgender rights, Justice Nisar lamented the discriminatory societal attitude towards the community, and said that trans people are separated from families. “We want to make sure the transgender community gets the same rights in the society as men and women do,” he said.

Justice Nisar also said that court orders regarding the community have helped to restore their honour and standing.

In March, the Senate unanimously approved Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017.

In the same month, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued driving licences to two transgender persons.

And now that the Supreme Court is backing the push for equal rights to members of transgender communities across provinces, things would become different.

One welcomes Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s comments on implementing equitable practices and mainstreaming members of the transgender community without stigma and prejudice.

Exceptionally commendable is the CJP’s acknowledgement of the need to rehabilitate and protect. Decades of discriminatory practices, stereotyping and biased mentalities have marginalised the community, forcing it to miss out on opportunities in most areas. Sessions such as the one on August 9th organised by the Law and Justice Commission to open discourse on the rights of members of the transgender community will need to take place more frequently as these remarks can only serve as introductory with much work remaining to be achieved.

The Punjab School Education Department, however, has already catapulted into action by issuing a directive to education authorities, both private and public, to guarantee equal treatment for third-gender children applying for admissions and once accepted to programmes. This is a laudable initiative and other provincial education departments are implored to appropriately follow suit. According to the 2017 census, Punjab houses 64% of the country’s 10,400 transgender population. With updated policies in education and employment, stakeholders must further ensure that a literal course of action is taken. For example, the change in education policy in Punjab must include how to manage certain situations that will arise, considering the bias parents instill in their children at home, which may give rise to cases of bullying.

Other situations may also cause issues such as the use of bathrooms in schools and workplaces, due to which a coherent policy needs to be developed. The CJP’s perspective on transgender rights being synonymous with human rights is one that needs to be adopted by the majority of citizens in this country.

One cannot control whether one is born a eunuch, hermaphrodite, female or male. Regardless, the fact stands that we are all human beings and must be treated as such.

When it comes to matters of inheritance and employment, 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.

The last census found the transgender population at 100,000 in the country and these figures must help in determining and solving their issues. 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.

However, after a long campaign by members of the community themselves and some activists, transgender rights in Pakistan have of late emerged from obscurity.

Following on the heels of the issuance of the first third-gender passport in Pakistan in June last year, two bills were introduced aimed at codifying the rights of transgenders. One of the bills i.e. the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017, includes measures such as official recognition of an individual’s identity as they perceive it, and protection from harassment and discrimination.

Logically speaking, the Constitution should have been enough to guarantee transgenders the rights granted to each and every Pakistani. Not so in this cultural milieu, however, where gender determines much of how an individual’s life plays out, and what society owes to him/her. In such an environment, transgenders are by definition at a disadvantage. Ironically, not so long ago, eunuchs or transsexuals – a term that falls under the transgender umbrella – enjoyed an elevated status in the royal courts of undivided India. Over time however, in a cruel inversion of fate, they were reduced to a wretched existence, pandering to the fetishes of society that dehumanised and treated them with contempt.

There have been a number of instances of horrific abuse against them, of rape, battery and other kinds of violence met with indifference or even ridicule by those in a position to help.. State and society both have to be proactive in bringing transgenders into the mainstream through opportunities in education and employment.

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