24 September 2022
By Rehan Piracha
LAHORE: Slamming religious parties for opposing the transgender law, transgender activists have debunked myths propagated against the legislation that gave long-awaited fundamental rights to their community.
Transgender activist Mhlab Jamil said the Transgender Act was passed after a year and a half of deliberation in parliament.
“The transgender law granted fundamental rights to the community including the right to education, health, employment, and vote,” she told Voicepk. The transgender law also protects the community from harassment and discrimination, she explained.
Meanwhile, the transgender community has expressed concern over recent attempts to amend the transgender law.
In 2021, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamaat-e-Islami proposed three amendments to the transgender law. “The amendments related to the establishment of a medical board for transgender applicants, inheritance rights, and a ban on sex change operations,” Mhlab Jamil said. Senator Mushtaq Ahmad has also challenged the law in the Federal Shariat Court.
Law does not legitimise same-sex marriages
The reasons cited for the amendments were that the transgender law legitimised same-sex marriages.
“The transgender law provided no such measures that legitimised homosexuality,” she clarified. “There are no clauses in the transgender law that facilitate same-sex marriages,” she added.
Regarding medical boards for transgender applicants, Mhlab Jamil said the transgender community had taken the unanimous stand that they did not need to go for medical examinations to get their fundamental rights as citizens since the Supreme Court began issuing orders in this regard in 2009.
“There is a misconception that the transgender law allows any citizen to change his/her sex assigned at birth with the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA),” she said.
According to Section 3 of the rules of transgender law, a transgender person wishing to change his/her gender at birth would be assigned the transgender symbol of X, she explained. “Any transgender person can have his/her male/female gender at birth to symbol X and not vice versa,” she clarified.
Jamil said it was only recently that NADRA began registering transgenders under the gender identity of X. Under the law, transgender persons with previous male and female gender identities assigned to them on their identity cards could approach NADRA to change their identity to the X symbol on their identity cards, she explained.
Sharing figures from NADRA, a total of 2,978 computerised identity cards have been issued to transgenders in the country till July 2022. Out of the total number, 1,856 CNICs were issued to first-time applicants with a transgender identity. Around 1,085 transgenders have switched from their previous male identity to the transgender identity while 87 transgender persons switched from female identity to transgender identity in the country.
A person’s sex cannot be changed without a medical board
“There is absolutely no truth to the claim that any citizen can switch his/her male/female gender at birth under the transgender law,” said Jamil. She cited a recent court case in which a person had challenged the rejection of a gender change application by NADRA.
“The NADRA policy as stated in its reply to the court outlined that any applicant for gender change had to submit medical certificates and appear personally before a zonal medical board,” she said, adding that after a decision of the zonal board, the final approval of the gender change rested with the director general of NADRA.
“Male and female citizens have to submit medical documents for change of gender and appear before a medical board which would recommend a change of gender on the identity card after various verifications,” Mhlab Jamil said, debunking the myth that male and female citizens could easily switch genders on their identity cards under the transgender law. Mhlab Jamil lamented that the controversy over the law has made the transgender community more prone to violence and hate crime in the country.
Senator Mushtaq has distorted facts
Meanwhile, speaking to Voicepk Karachi-based Bindiya Rana, executive director of Gender Interactive Alliance, came down hard on Senator Mushtaq Ahmed for distorting facts relating to the change in gender statistics in the country.
“The Senator could have asked NADRA to provide figures about how many citizens had applied for change of gender and pointed out instances where applicants had misused the law to change their sex at birth under the Transgender Act 2018,” she said.
Bindiya lamented that their community had not been able to receive the protection and rights mentioned in the transgender law since its adoption four years ago.
“Those people opposing the transgender law are maybe afraid that some of the transgender persons have gained social acceptance as doctors, teachers, actors and lawyers,” she added.
People are being misled over transgender law
A day earlier, transgender activist Nayyab Ali said that people were being misled about the transgender law. She said the law guaranteed all fundamental rights of the transgender community of Pakistan, but it was being attacked by far-right members of society.
She pointed out that the transgender Law is not repugnant to Islamic injunction but child sexual abuse and exploitation is.
“Ban sexual abuse and exploitation in your institutions and bring strict laws, and don’t impose your filth on us,” she said, referring to the allegations and accusations from religious elements that the transgender law promoted homosexuality.
“The real issue is that this bill grants us the right to vote and contest elections and that is why religious people are afraid of us that we might contest elections against them and even win with the support of the people,” Nayyab Ali said while speaking at a press conference in Islamabad on September 23.
In a recent press conference, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar also rejected the criticism of the Transgender Law, saying linking the law to homosexuality was a ‘misconception’.
The law minister clarified that the bill had been passed by the Senate and National Assembly in the presence of religious and political leaders. “Whenever a law is passed, there is always a chance of weakness or misuse [of it]. Here too, complaints started coming after two years on a provision that there was a possibility that Sections 3 and 4 could be misused.”
The minister said, “nowhere (does the law) say that any person can be a transgender themselves”.
In a statement, Aurat March also expressed its alarm and worry about the recent backlash that the transgender community has been made to face over the Transgender law 2018.
Representatives said that they were extremely alarmed by the malicious disinformation campaign against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018.
“The Act’s passing was a monumental moment of pride for Pakistan. Hence, the manufactured campaign to erode and endanger the rights of the trans and Khawaja sira community should be a cause of concern to all,” said their press release.
Religious parties, including government ally Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl, have opposed the transgender bill saying it is against Islamic injunctions.