It was hailed as a landmark ruling in November 2011 when the Supreme Court granted transgenders voting rights and ordered that they be issued CNICs in which they would be listed as third genders. However, for the approximately 80,000 transgenders who celebrated what they hoped would be a new beginning, the festivity has turned into a damp squib and as elections loom, this is becoming more apparent. According to a report in this newspaper, citing the Election Commission of Pakistan, only 26 of 3,500 transgender people living in Karachi have new identity cards and are registered voters. Nadra, however, claims to have issued CNICs to 47 transgender people. Figures from the rest of the country are not likely to be promising. This is far from what was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2011. What are the chances that transgenders with old CNICs who could not get new CNICs (for no fault of their own) will be able to vote?
In the report, transgenders complained of facing all sorts of hurdles when applying for new CNICs, including, for example, being asked to submit a medical certificate to prove their gender. This kind of behaviour is very unbecoming of Nadra officials who are required to issue CNICs without prejudice.
Voting rights for transgenders is just one part of the issue; it hasn’t solved the isolation they continue to face and feel. They remain neglected, unable to get jobs outside the entertainment or commercial sex industry and do not have access to adequate healthcare or education. This may sound like the story of the average Pakistani but compound it with the rejection they are met with because they are a ‘different’ gender and the problem is far worse, especially when there appears to be no room for compassion. The Supreme Court’s order to consider transgender people for government jobs was a step in the right direction as it facilitated integration, not isolation, and needs to be implemented with vigour.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.