The Supreme Court’s recent directive that transgender persons be provided with National Identity Cards to enable them to vote in elections is a much-needed step that could lead to the integration of the third-gender community into the broader population.
In Pakistan, attitudes towards transgender persons vary wildly, which is both a consequence and a cause of their convoluted official status in society. Revered, loathed, feared, appreciated and desired in turn, the average transgender person faces discrimination in every sphere of life as a result of their loosely administered rights. Members of the third gender community state that police protection, employment opportunities, fair inheritance and access to health care and justice are systematically denied to them. These cultural attitudes are so pervasive that any attempt to change existing practices by increasing awareness and educating the population will take far too long to work. The only way to ensure that transgender persons are treated fairly is to codify procedures and introduce those clauses into the legal system — something that legislators must push for, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s directives.
Although the transgender community’s struggle is just beginning, their being given the option to identify themselves as either male transgender, female transgender or ‘Khunsa-e-mushkil’ on their ID cards is a positive step, as the ability to freely declare personal affiliations and opinions is the hallmark of a progressive society. Unfortunately, even though this right is being extended to the transgender community, other marginalised communities in Pakistan, namely religious minorities, are still discriminated against despite the existence of laws meant to protect them. Where the implementation of law is poor, it follows that all weaker members of society such as children, women, the elderly, and religious and ethnic minorities, will be in a position of danger.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2011.