21 February 2023
By Hamza Saeed
Proposed amendments to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 have begun to be criticized and are expected to cause backlash over a regressive impact on the already marginalized transgender community in the country.
On Friday, February 17, the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights held a meeting to discuss these proposed amendments. Conservative and far-right segments of society have been pushing for these changes, despite the Act’s historic significance in providing some protection to the transgender community.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 was passed by the Parliament after the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that trans peoples were equal to other Pakistani citizens in 2010 followed by a grassroots movement.
It allowed people to choose their gender and to have that identity recognized on official documents, including national IDs, passports, and driver’s licenses. The bill prohibited discrimination in schools, at work, on public modes of transit, and while receiving medical care.
Replacing “Transgender” with “Khunsa (Intersex)”
Senator Walid Iqbal chaired the meeting and told the committee about the common position taken by movers of all six bills, that Islamic law categorically provides that gender cannot be derived from internal feeling or internal sense of being, but instead may solely be derived from physical appearance, genital attributes, and congenital ambiguities.
The committee decided to replace the word “Transgender” in the 2018 Act with “Khunsa (Intersex)” based on the common position taken by the movers of all six bills that gender cannot be derived from a psychological state of mind, or an internal feeling or sense of being, but solely from physical appearance, genital attributes, and congenital ambiguities.
This decision has been deeply criticized for pandering to religious circles that have not extended much understanding of the bill and its purpose. Reem Sharif, a transgender rights activist, and the first trans police officer said:
“People have no knowledge of our history. They don’t even know what transgender is – they think it’s the same as ‘intersex’ (khunsa). But if we correct them that we are not intersex they get angry. There is an unending social stigma against us.”
Medical board to determine gender
The standing committee also agreed to constitute a medical board comprising six experts at the district level to determine ‘gender’, and intersex people will have to register themselves with NADRA as per the certification made by the medical board. This bureaucratic process has been criticized for creating significant hurdles for transgender individuals and worsening their already difficult situation. The determination of gender solely based on the medical board’s report has also been deemed problematic.
Trans rights activists and the founder and president of Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) emphasized the need for the provision of basic facilities to transpersons.
“We don’t need anything separate, such as graveyards, etc. What we need are equal rights. With the proposed amendments, now will a doctor or a counselor tell me what my sex is and who I am? In that case, every man and woman must be tested for their sex as well.”
Identity and Statelessness
A transgender rights activist who wished to remain anonymous spoke to Voicepk.net and highlighted that if these amendments are allowed to be passed, the community will face identity issues to the point of being stateless.
“These amendments will reduce our identities down to our physical traits and characteristics,” she said. “Once this bill is passed, thousands of Khawaja Siras with “X” CNIC cards will become stateless after being subjected to this ‘medical examination board’ and when the board arbitrarily decided that they do not meet the criteria for having an ‘X’ card. This is pure discrimination and an invasion of our privacy.”
Islamabad-based policy analyst Dr. Shafqat Munir spoke to Voicepk.net and emphasized the issue of identity. He compared the situation with the Rohingya community in Myanmar and said that the transgender community is becoming stateless even while living under a state. He said that financial and social inclusion is directly tied to identity and that there is a need to streamline them in our society by the state.
Criticism and lack of representation
The proposed amendments have faced criticism from both within and outside the country for their regressive move. The lack of representation of intersex people on the committee has also been concerning.
Hina Baloch, a Karachi-based trans rights activist compared such amendments with the discriminatory laws of Nazi Germany against the Jews and the profiling of Muslims after 9/11 by the United States.
“We as a community feel betrayed as we came out and surrendered our identities by sharing our privileged information while trusting our State. One of the biggest fears, I have, is the State will now come after us.”
For now, the matter has been deferred until the next meeting. However, activists say that if lawmakers do not oppose this regressive move, there are concerns about serious damage to the transgender community.